Motivated Circulation: How Misinformation and Ideological Alignment Influence the Circulation of Political Content

Benjamin Bowyer, Joseph Kahne


This article investigates the factors that shape the circulation of political content on social media. We analyze an experiment embedded within a nationally representative survey of U.S. youth that randomly assigned participants to see a short post designed to resemble content that circulates through social media. The post was experimentally manipulated to vary in both its ideology and whether it contained factually inaccurate information. In general, we found that participants’ intentions to circulate a post on social media were strongly influenced by whether that post aligned with their ideology, but not by whether it contained misinformation. The relative effects of ideological alignment and misinformation were found to differ according to participants’ level of political knowledge and engagement, indicating that different groups of young people are susceptible to particular kinds of misinformation.


misinformation, social media, motivated reasoning, survey experiment

Full Text: