How Fake News Spreads Online?
Permeating the Internet and reaching millions of users, fake news became a pervasive phenomenon on the public agenda since the US Presidential election in 2016. The term, despite its ambiguity, has been widely used in research to describe false messages created with the intent to mislead. However empirical evidence on how fake news spreads and circulates between individuals and different social groups remains limited.
For this literature review, I collected 21 academic articles published in English between 2016 and 2020 that explore the audience of fake news, patterns of its dissemination, and the role played by average users and bots in this process. The reviewed studies sometimes arrive at contradictory conclusions regarding important aspects of the focal phenomenon: for example, authors differently evaluate the scale of it and reach opposing conclusions studying the influence of bots on the fake news spread. Moreover, I observe certain contextual imbalances: many papers focus on the US political agenda and collect data from Facebook or Twitter, all but neglecting other digital platforms where disinformation can circulate.
In this paper, I argue that future research needs a systematic exploration of users' motivations to share fake news and more precise look into the role of media in misinformation dissemination. It is also important to compare the spread of fake news within different political contexts and media systems to explore how local peculiarities affect its circulation.