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It's fair to say that, once the pandemic started, sharing misinformation on social media took on an added, potentially fatal edge. Inaccurate information about the risks posed by the virus, the efficacy of masks, and the safety of vaccines put people at risk of preventable death. Yet despite the dangers of misinformation, it continues to run rampant on many social media sites, with moderation and policy often struggling to keep up.
If we're going to take any measures to address this—something it's not clear that social media services are interested in doing—then we have to understand why sharing misinformation is so appealing to people. An earlier study had indicated that people care about making sure that what they share is accurate, but
they fail to check
in many cases. A new study elaborates that by getting into why this disconnect develops: For many users, clicking "share" becomes a habit, something they pursue without any real thought.
How vices become habits
People find plenty of reasons to post misinformation that have nothing to do with whether they mistakenly believe the information is accurate. The misinformation could make their opponents, political or otherwise, look bad. Alternately, it could signal to their allies that they're on the same side or part of the same cultural group. But the initial experiments described here suggest that this sort of biased sharing doesn't explain a significant amount of information.