Facebook’s News Feed raises self-perception of political knowledge

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WASHINGTON, April 10, 2018 (Xinhua) -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., United States, on April 10, 2018. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in written testimony on Monday that he is "responsible for" not preventing the social media platform from being used for harm, including fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech. (Xinhua/Ting Shen/IANS)

People who read Facebook’s News Feed that showcases previews of various news articles tend to overestimate their political knowledge and form a strong opinion, says a study.

With approximately half of Internet users using Facebook to access news, the study has important implications for how people learn about politics.

The study, published in the Research and Politics journal, argued that although reading the short article previews provides one with political information, individuals especially those who are motivated to seek emotions think they know more than they actually do.

They tend to form strong opinions and are significantly more likely to overestimate their knowledge.

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“Social media can inform audiences, even the little article previews that appear in Facebook’s News Feed. However, with this learning comes a false confidence; some individuals (particularly those motivated by their gut reactions) think they learn more on the issue than they actually do,” Nicolas M. Anspach from the York College of Pennsylvania in the US told PsyPost.com

“This overconfidence might translate to increased political participation, but concern remains over whether social media provides enough information for voters to make fully informed choices,” he added.

In the study, a group of 320 participants read an article from The Washington Post about the safety of genetically modified foods.

Another group of 319 participants read a mock Facebook News Feed containing four article previews, where one preview was about genetically modified foods, while a third group of 351 participants, used as a control, did not read anything.

When tested about their knowledge of the subject, the participants who read the full article answered the most questions correctly, while those who read the News Feed correctly answered only one question more often than the control group on average.

But participants who read the News Feed were more likely to overestimate their knowledge, especially among those motivated to experience strong emotions.