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"Partisanship, not illiteracy: Explaining older Americans' vulnerability to dubious news" - Talk by Ben Lyons

April 7, 2022 | 2:00 – 3:30pm

Although older Americans have been found to visit and share dubious news sources more often in their observed online behavior, they are generally no worse, if not better, at discerning between false and accurate news in survey settings. We provide cognitive, motivational, and methodological explanations for this puzzle. First, older Americans are more subject to prior exposure effects, and so repeated exposures to false news in the real world may make them more likely to believe false news stories over time. Perhaps more importantly, though, older Americans are more interested in politics, have more established partisan identities, and exhibit greater affective polarization. This leads them to consume a greater volume of news overall, including mainstream news, rather than false news in particular. It also results in greater congeniality bias when evaluating news headlines, which may signal greater desire for outgroup derogation in their news behaviors and could result in engagement for reasons other than perceived accuracy. Lastly, while older Americans are not more vulnerable to false news in surveys, we show that they are more vulnerable to hyperpartisan news --- which is highly slanted but not verified as categorically false. This category of news, which has not previously been examined in survey studies of older news consumers, is a better fit with the low-credibility websites as classified in behavioral data that show older users are an especially vulnerable subgroup.

About Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons is assistant professor of Communication at the University of Utah studying the intersection of media, politics, and public understanding of science. His research centers on misinformation and misperceptions – their origins, effects, and steps to address them – using surveys, experiments, web-tracking data, and spatial data. His research has been published in journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Human Behaviour, Risk Analysis, and Vaccine, and featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, Der Spiegel, and other outlets. Lyons’ work has been supported by the European Research Council and the Democracy Fund. 


Last Updated: 4/29/22