Why People Believe Fake News: Q&A

Confirmation Bias
Knowledge Center

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Why People Believe Fake News: Q&A

🔥NEW Propaganda and fake news in social media have become a real and major threat to our society. Let's try together to build our understanding of this ugly phenomenon. To get started, here are some simple questions and answers about fake news:


  • According to Wikipedia, "Fake news is false or misleading information presented as news."
  • I suggest this definition is better: "Fake news is false and intentionally misleading information presented as news."
    In my opinion, news that is only false (wrong) is not fake news. Likewise, news that is misleading due to some mistake is also not fake news. The intention to mislead the receivers is essential.
  • The picture below is showing various categories of fake news.


  1. Apparently it works (for people who try to manipulate other people).
  2. Social media act as a catalyst (= accelerator). Social media companies earn money by spreading outspoken, oversimplified opinions. It causes a lot of reactions and traffic on their websites. Let's skip this point here and leave it to the regulators.
  3. Little is and can be done to stop it in a free society. I also skip this point for now.
  4. People apparently believe it. This reason is perhaps most interesting for this knowledge center (confirmation bias).


This is an interesting question that seems to have been somewhat neglected. Possible explanations are:
  1. Confirmation bias: the human tendency to search for, select, or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions and prior beliefs. Social networks reinforce this tendency of people due to the way they are set up in various groups of likeminded "friends".
    But according to Serra-Garcia and Gneezy there is more to it. In a series of experiments they found 2 more reasons why we believe fake news (in social media):
  2. We are overconfident and bad at detecting lies. We believe we are good at judging if some story of claim is true, but we're just not!
  3. We tend to over-rely on shared content. If somebody else shares some info we get more interested (especially if it's by people we know).
⇨ Do you see other reasons for fake news to have become so prominent?
⇨ Perhaps you see other reasons explaining why people believe it?

Source: Serra-Garcia, M. and Gneezy U. (2021), "Mistakes, Overconfidence, and the Effect of Sharing on Detecting Lies", American Economic Review Vol. 111, No. 10, pp. 3160-83.

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