IAS Distinguished Lecture

Combating Fake News: A Consumer Psychology Perspective


An increasing proliferation of misinformation and “fake news” has been widely reported and documented. Reality is now under attack from advertising-optimized information architectures mediating our contemporary reality and disinformation campaigns proliferate on online forums and social media. The speaker's research program aims to answer questions regarding why we believe and share fake news and how to prevent or correct inaccurate beliefs. In a recent paper titled “Perceived Social Presence Reduces Fact-Checking” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2017), the speaker and her collaborators find that consumers are less likely to fact check ambiguous news headlines when they feel they are in the presence of others compared to when they are alone. The speaker and her collaborators find that this reluctance to fact check is caused by reduced vigilance in group settings such as social media. In a series of follow-up research projects, the speaker is designing interventions such as direct debunking as well as subtle flagging of news headlines and testing their impact on message scrutiny. It is found that there is mixed evidence for the efficacy of these interventions. They also find that increasing message skepticism and scrutiny can have unintended spillover consequences in terms of reduced trust in brands advertised on these social platforms. In another research project, the speaker addresses the issue of fake news from a different perspective and examine sharers of fake news. Who are they, and what motivates them to share fake news? The speaker and her collaborators contrast fake news sharers, fact-check sharers, sharers of news articles from general media outlets and a random sample of social media users across five dimensions: demographics, political ideology, social media usage, emotions and personality. They access these characteristics by collecting their personal information as posted on Twitter as well as the content of their tweets. Fake news sharers differ from the other groups on multiple characteristics, but they also show similarities to fact check users on their emotional profile. Their findings can help social platforms to screen, prioritize and scrutinize messages posted by potential fake news sharers before false messages are widely disseminated. Taken together, this research program aims to guide policy discussions on how to combat the spread of fake news.

About the speaker

Prof. Gita Johar obtained her MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and PhD in Marketing from New York University in 1985 and 1993 respectively. She joined Columbia Business School in 1992 and is currently the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business and the Chair of the Faculty Steering Committee for the Columbia Global Centers in Mumbai, India.

Prof. Johar's expertise lies in consumer psychology, focusing on how consumers react to marketing efforts, especially advertising, promotions and sponsorship. She also examines the influence of consumer self-control and perceptions of control on decision making and consumption. She has published several influential articles in the areas of consumer persuasion and decision making in leading marketing and psychology journals. She was the Associate Editor of the Journal of Marketing Research in 2009-2012 and the Co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research in 2014-2017.

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