New Paper: Why do people share fake news?

I’m really proud of this paper. It’s my attempt to further a new model of media effects that takes into account active audiences, media messages, and technological affordances. I focus on conservative audiences for fake news as a case study.

Basically: People share fake news because it furthers partisan narratives that are promoted by mainstream (mostly) conservative media and expresses personal and political identity.


  • Most fake news isn’t political, but sensational. Still more is created to be polysemic and appeal to people across the political spectrum in order to increase viewership (and therefore money).
  • Conservative fake news doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Much of it builds on “deep stories” that have been present on Fox News for decades.
  • The mainstream media (NYTimes, WaPo, etc.) is tied to an elite, liberal identity. Part of this is due to years of conservative media promoting the idea that urban elites look down on rural/southern white people, part of it is that MSM consistently references urban/cosmopolitan identity markers (e.g. talking about Korean food, Kendrick Lamar, & frequent flyer miles) [I took this idea directly from Reece Peck, a sociologist at CUNY who studies Fox News and who has an amazing upcoming book on the subject. ] This means that conservatives are alienated from MSM as a matter of course.
  • Sharing fake news is about expressing partisan identity, which is ever-increasingly polarized and personal.


  • These findings suggest that fact-checking will cause anger, resentment, and allegations of bias against conservatives (since MSM is, well, more factual and correct than hyper-partisan or conservative media).
  • Media literacy doesn’t work either because, as sociologist Francesca Tripodi has shown in great detail, conservatives already engage in close reading and source-checking when they consume news.
  • We have to stop pretending that fake news is a neutral, non-partisan issue. The type of sensational fake news that is non-partisan is relatively harmless in that it doesn’t spread dangerous disinformation. Partisan fake news has serious civic ramifications, and refusing to admit that there’s more fake news on the right (and that it’s reinforced by a hyper-partisan mediasphere) is disingenuous and makes it impossible to actually solve the problem.

Let me know what you think! But in a nice way, please.

Marwick, A. (2018). “Why Do People Share Fake News? A Sociotechnical Model of Media Effects.” Georgetown Law Technology Review 2: 474-512. [Open Access!]

1 thought on “New Paper: Why do people share fake news?”

  1. This is an EXCELLENT paper. Just read the entire piece. I’m a newbie to Alice Marwick’s work; I also just read her MEDIA MANIPULATION / DISINFORMATION ONLINE. I read an awful lot on this topic – so for me this essay and the overview are (in the words of Alexander Pope) “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” The essay is much better – the author has every reason “to be especially proud of this one.” Nonetheless, Marwick’s elucidations are VERY HELPFUL to me as I myself try to write on this terrible topic of right-wing propaganda. I’m an English / Lit professor – but I have written on politics in the past (and at times have been an activist). I try to keep up with Communication issues and have read a fair amount … I will read more by Alice Marwick. Finally – the organization of writings on this blog is awe-inspiring.

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