Twitter and Endorsed (Fake) News: The Influence of Endorsement by Strong Ties, Celebrities, and a User Majority on Credibility of Fake News During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Focusing on a widespread COVID-19 conspiracy theory, this study examines how social endorsement systems on Twitter, represented by retweets and metrics indicating the number of engagements by others, affect assessment of credibility of (fake) news. Expanding studies on social influence and endorsement-based heuristics, we hypothesized that Twitter users would consider fake news retweeted by a strong tie and with cues indicating a greater number of likes, comments, and retweets as more credible than news retweeted by a celebrity and without the cues. Through a two-by-two survey experiment among 267 Twitter users, we found evidence to support these hypotheses. We additionally found that the effectiveness of strong ties and celebrities as retweeters varied by users’ perceptions of their attributes and users’ interactions with them. These findings add to the literature of news credibility by demonstrating the effects of endorsements from social media contacts. Our study partly explains how and why fake news and disinformation spread in the networked online environment. We conclude this study by discussing implications for interventions of fake news on social media.