2024/07/09 Andreas Jungherr

New article: Blame and obligation

Who do people blame for disinformation and who do they see as obligated to fix associated problems?

In the new article Blame and obligation: The importance of libertarianism and political orientation in the public assessment of disinformation in the United States/a> with Adrian Rauchfleisch we ask who people in the US blame for disinformation and who they feel is obligated to fix it.

Respondents blame the media (27.65%), politicians (19.37%), and other people (15.73%) for the spread of disinformation. Foreign actors are only mentioned by 6%. Only 8.77% blame social media companies for the spread of disinformation.

When asked who is obligated to fix the problem of disinformation respondents name people (29.97%), social media companies (22.02%), news media and journalists (18.21%), and government and regulators (15.73%). Politicians are almost never mentioned in this context (3.97%).

Americans think of disinformation predominantly as a problem created by news media and individuals. They feel people should fix corresponding problems, as well as social media companies, news media, and journalists. Only a minority sees this as the obligation of the state.

Conservatives and liberals differ in their assignment of blame and obligation. The more conservative a person, the less likely they are to assign primary obligation for halting the spread of false information to social media companies and politicians.

The more conservative a person is, the more likely they are to attribute blame for the spread of false information to the government and regulators as well as the general public.

The more libertarian a person, the greater the likelihood they will name the general public as obligated to stop the spread of disinformation. They are also less likely to name social media companies, news media, or the government as obligated to fix associated problems.

Libertarians assess disinformation in line with their underlying attitudes. They emphasize the responsibility of individuals, leave companies free from associated burdens, and to not further empower institutional actors to rule over and interfere in communication spaces.

Political orientation primarily shapes blame attributions, aligning with individuals’ pre-existing biases and the politicized nature of disinformation. Views on obligation reflect deeper ideas about societal governance, such as state interference and individual freedoms.

Accordingly, the discussion of disinformation and appropriate reactions is not purely about the best way to fix information problems. Instead, respective discourses are clearly connected with underlying worldviews.

Achieving agreement on how to deal with disinformation is no longer simply about the issue of how to improve information quality in digital communication environments. Diagnoses and proposals are deeply connected to views on how societies should be run.

These findings reinforce the challenge of assessing the dangers of disinformation correctly and finding appropriate responses due to the inherently politically and value-laden nature of the problem.

Abstract: Disinformation concerns have heightened the importance of regulating content and speech in digital communication environments. Perceived risks have led to widespread public support for stricter control measures, even at the expense of individual speech rights. To better understand these preferences in the US context, we investigate public attitudes regarding blame for and obligation to address digital disinformation by drawing on political ideology, libertarian values, trust in societal actors, and issue salience. A manual content analysis of open-ended survey responses in combination with an issue salience experiment shows that political orientation and trust in actors primarily drive blame attribution, while libertarianism predominantly informs whose obligation it is to stop the spread. Additionally, enhancing the salience of specific aspects of the issue can influence people’s assessments of blame and obligation. Our findings reveal a range of attributions, underlining the need for careful balance in regulatory interventions. Additionally, we expose a gap in previous literature by demonstrating libertarianism’s unique role vis-à-vis political orientation in the context of regulating content and speech in digital communication environments.

  • Adrian Rauchfleisch and Andreas Jungherr. 2024. Blame and obligation: The importance of libertarianism and political orientation in the public assessment of disinformation in the United States. Policy & Internet. Online first. doi: 10.1002/poi3.407
  • , , , , ,

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.