Distinguishing Fake and Real News: Do Social Ties Influence Partisan Motivated Reasoning?


Social media have become the most important enabler and conduit for fake news and may facilitate greater selective exposure (Bakshy, Messing, & Adamic, 2015). It was found that 40% of fake news is consumed through social media while only 10% of real news is consumed through the same platforms (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). With social media as a powerful source for fake news creation and proliferation, the term “fake news” is evolving into a broader concept that includes elements such as misinformation, unverified rumors, and manufactured content (Gelfert, 2018; Hardalov, Koychev, & Nakov, 2016; Shu, Sliva, Wang, Tang, & Liu, 2017).

Partisanship is believed to be one of the cognitive factors that drives belief in fake news (Kahan, Peters, Dawson, & Slovic, 2017; Van Bavel & Pereira, 2018). Studies show that people tend to accept and recall congenial factual information more frequently than non-congenial facts (Jerit & Barabas, 2012; Kahan et al., 2017), and interpret facts in a belief-consistent manner (Bolsen, Druckman, & Cook, 2014; Faragó, Kende, & Krekó, 2019; Gaines, Kuklinski, Quirk, Peyton, & Verkuilen, 2007). However, in a social media context – where cross-ideological political interactions are more frequent than in daily life (Barberá, Jost, Nagler, Tucker, & Bonneau, 2015) – how partisan motivated reasoning may affect readers’ processing of fake and real news, and in consequence, spread out fake news on social media are not fully understood. The purpose of this study is to uncover the hidden mechanism of political motivated reasoning on fake news evaluation and social media share utilizing an online experiment.

A mixed-factorial experiment with source as a within-subjects factor and political ideology as a between-subjects factor was administered. Two hundred and forty participants from the U.S. were recruited by using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk).

This study found that, although political ideology influences trustworthiness of news source and satiricalness of fake news, Democrats tend to view news outlets as more trustworthy than Republicans. Republicans tend to view fake news as more satirical than Democrats. Political ideology does not affect participants’ ratings of veracity of fake news. This may occur because trustworthiness and satiricalness are types of information that are tied more closely to political ideology than veracity. However, political ideology still plays a more important role than social ties in social media share. Moreover, Republicans tend to view fake news to be less truthful, to be less influenced by social ties, and they share fake news in a bigger circle than Democrats on social media. Implications about the effects of directional and accuracy motivated reasoning and social ties are discussed.

This study not only contributes to the mechanism development of fake news diffusion, but also to maintaining the authenticity balance of news ecosystems in the long term.


Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-236.

Bakshy, E., Messing, S., & Adamic, L. A. (2015). Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook. Science, 348(6239), 1130-1132.