Understanding Political Disinformation with Facebook Audience Insights and Eye-tracking Technology

Project: Research project

Project Details


People frequently use the term “fake news” in everyday conversations. Especially, on social media platforms, people accuse individuals or organizations of publishing fake news. In the current polarized political environment, identifying what actually underlies the accusations of “fake” is of global significance. Considering the strong distrust Hong Kong citizens have toward the media and government agencies, the mechanisms that underlie the accusations of fake news warrant serious investigation. Although researchers have widely studied the detection and propagation of fake news by using computational methods, no empirical studies have yet demonstrated why audiences consider some news fake and others not. Therefore, this project seeks to build a programmatic research agenda to answer two important questions: Why do fake news accusations exist? How do these accusations influence news audiences?

To answer these questions, this project proposes to harness social media data from 17 Facebook news accounts to reveal the factors that prompt individuals to make fake news accusations and, in turn, generate solutions to political disinformation in a data-driven manner. Given the abundance of fake news accusations on Facebook, the platform is very suitable for identifying the factors that prompt audiences to make accusations of fake news. Monthly summaries of three years’ worth of Facebook audience insights will be disseminated through an interactive webpage to enable media researchers and the public to map the landscape of fake news accusations about current affairs and to monitor the performance of news media in Hong Kong more effectively.

In addition, an eye-tracking experiment (N = 270) will be conducted to understand how social media users attend to, process, and evaluate news that has been accused of as being fake. Through the analysis of gaze and scan patterns, the role of personal beliefs, framing of audiences’ receptions, and audiences’ processing of news stories on social media will be examined. The findings of this work will contribute to the literature on hostile media perception (individuals tend to perceive news as hostile when the said news is different from their personal beliefs) and on framing (political actors occasionally prompt individuals to criticize the news media). Upon completion of this research, media educators and media businesses can develop effective strategies for engaging with users and can, in turn, tackle the accusations that social media platforms are used to circulate fake information. Ultimately, policymakers will be able to gain insights to fruitfully collaborate with both media educators and businesses.

Effective start/end date1/01/2131/12/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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