Sharers Rather than Authors More Important on Social Media

The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story's actual source in determining whether readers believe it, a study by the Media Insight Project has found.

In a previous study, consumers said they paid greater heed to where the story originated. But the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, set up an experiment that found something different.

News organizations are keenly interested in research that tracks consumer habits in a rapidly changing media world. Facebook was the top non-television source for election news cited by both supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in last fall's presidential campaign, according to the Pew Research Center. Businesses grew to churn out false stories that people would share online.

The Media Insight Project survey showed a post on a Facebook-like social network with a health story about diabetes. The Associated Press was labeled as the story's author in the post shown to half of the participants while for the other half, the story was said to be from a fictional source, DailyNewsReview.com. Half of the participants saw the story was shared by a public figure they had previously said they trusted, such as Oprah Winfrey or Dr. Oz. For the other half, the story was shared by a famous person they said they didn't trust.

Fifty percent of participants said the health story got the facts right when it was shared by the person they trusted, while only 35 percent said the same thing when they didn't trust the sharer, the study found. The pattern was nearly identical when people were asked if they thought the story was well-reported.

Participants also said they were more likely to pass the article along to their own friends when it had...

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