Factual or Believable? Negotiating the Boundaries of Confirmation Bias in Online News Stories

AbstractWe examine the fake news phenomenon from a fresh perspective. Instead of assessing the factuality of news claims, our work explores the impact of these claims on reader beliefs. With the 2017 Alabama senate race as the empirical context, we examine how readers on both sides of the political spectrum evaluate online news stories considering their preconceived beliefs and values. Our analysis builds on concepts from argument and social representations theories to explore the role of argumentation in this process. We focus on detecting arguments in reader comments to depict challenges involved in reader consideration of newsworthy events and news stories. A key finding of the paper is that readers from both sides of the political spectrum appear to engage in similar strategies to confirm or negotiate acceptance or rejection of claims. The paper contributes to theory by depicting social representation as a process that mediates conflict in belief structures. We conclude by speculating about possibilities for future work, such as designing behavioral and technological interventions that can supplement fact-checking. An important goal here is to improve how we, in the presence of our biases, collectively consume online news stories and engage in the discourse that surrounds them.


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