Debunking in a world of tribes

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 24;12(7):e0181821. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181821. eCollection 2017.


Social media aggregate people around common interests eliciting collective framing of narratives and worldviews. However, in such a disintermediated environment misinformation is pervasive and attempts to debunk are often undertaken to contrast this trend. In this work, we examine the effectiveness of debunking on Facebook through a quantitative analysis of 54 million users over a time span of five years (Jan 2010, Dec 2014). In particular, we compare how users usually consuming proven (scientific) and unsubstantiated (conspiracy-like) information on Facebook US interact with specific debunking posts. Our findings confirm the existence of echo chambers where users interact primarily with either conspiracy-like or scientific pages. However, both groups interact similarly with the information within their echo chamber. Then, we measure how users from both echo chambers interacted with 50,220 debunking posts accounting for both users consumption patterns and the sentiment expressed in their comments. Sentiment analysis reveals a dominant negativity in the comments to debunking posts. Furthermore, such posts remain mainly confined to the scientific echo chamber. Only few conspiracy users engage with corrections and their liking and commenting rates on conspiracy posts increases after the interaction.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Social Media*
  • Social Networking
  • United States

Grant support

Funding for this work was provided by EU FET project MULTIPLEX nr. 317532, SIMPOL nr. 610704, DOLFINS nr. 640772, SOBIGDATA 654024, IMT/eXtrapola Srl (P0082). SH and LS were supported by the Israel Ministry of Science and Technology, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Israel Science Foundation, ONR and DTRA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.