About this Research Topic
High quality information is critical for the functioning of democracy. Yet, in the era of growing prominence of social media and a high choice news media environment, it is increasingly difficult for citizens to judge the quality of the information they encounter in their daily lives. Moreover, social and digital media have been found to amplify and accelerate the diffusion of misinformation, providing tools for propaganda at an unprecedented scale. Understanding the mechanics of political misinformation and its connections with public opinion formation is therefore a vital challenge for democracy. Evidence of widespread political ignorance among voters is a long-standing finding in public opinion studies. However, misinformation is also a threat to democracy since it can lead citizens to confidently defend factually incorrect beliefs. Thus, political misinformation leads to two intertwined issues. First, misinformation among voters may lead to distorted judgements of candidates and issues. Second, fake news has become a powerful tool of propaganda in the hands of opportunistic actors. These two issues generate concerns amid the difficulty of fact-checking organizations to tackle the large volume of false news and the recent surge in misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Research Topic centers around two critical challenges for the scholarship on political misinformation. First, on the demand-side, questions remain around who is vulnerable to misinformation and how best to correct mistaken beliefs. Insights from psychology show that belief formation can serve accuracy motivations or be distorted by directional reasoning that is motivated by partisanship, ideology, or social identity, and the limits of one’s cognitive ability and media literacy. More research is needed to improve our understanding of these mechanisms, by identifying the antecedents, covariates, and moderators of misinformation and viable strategies to reduce the influence of false news in order to foster more accurate political reasoning. Second, on the supply-side, we lack an understanding of the mechanisms that generate and propagate political misinformation in the digital age. This is critical to understanding how to halt the spread of false news while increasing the circulation of news from credible sources. While more recent studies focus on social media, mainstream media also maintains an important role in the diffusion (and potential correction) of misinformation.
Finally, research is needed to understand how contextual factors can exacerbate the negative consequences of misinformation. The rise of political polarization, hyperpartisan media outlets, and ever more refined techniques of computational propaganda are all factors that can enhance the credibility of false information, thereby spreading institutional and media distrust.
The goal of this interdisciplinary Research Topic is to move forward the frontier of political misinformation studies. A non-exhaustive list of potential contributions of interest includes:
1. Research related to the demand-side of political misinformation such as: studies on the cognitive and motivational roots of misbelief-formation (pedagogical); studies identifying viable methods for correcting political misinformation; studies clarifying how misinformation links to political attitudes, behaviors, political participation, and trust in the media; assessments of the prevalence of false news; theoretical contributions on the consequences of a misinformed citizenry for representative democracy.
2. Research that addresses the supply-side of political misinformation such as: case studies of successful misinformation campaigns and/or fact-checking campaigns; assessments of the prevalence of false information in the media environment; studies relating algorithmic bias, computational propaganda and misinformation cascades; theoretical and ethical contributions on the challenges for journalism in the digital age.
3. Methodological contributions proposing better research designs and/or measurement strategies, such as: re-analysis and replications of published contributions that extend their modeling strategies or test the robustness of their findings; papers proposing new strategies for identifying false stories and likely sources of misinformation; studies proposing better conceptualizations and survey items to gauge relevant constructs (e.g. exposure to misinformation, fake-news recall, erroneous beliefs, etc.).
We welcome contributions from all areas of the social sciences and computer science. Contributions submitted prior to December 31st, addressing political misinformation specifically in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic will be waived of all APCs (authors should contact the editors before proceeding with the abstract submission).
Keywords: Digital Technologies, Political Misinformation, Media Bias, Public Opinion, Democracy
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.