KUALA LUMPUR: We all know that person. He or she relentlessly shares alarming hoax messages, unverified photos of fake food in China or links to shoddy websites.
Most people who actively share unverified information on social media may be doing so because they want to feel relevant and “connected” to their group, said one of Malaysia’s leading psychologists.
Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj believes that while some avid news sharers lack online savvy, most may be doing so due to a lack of self-esteem.
“People generally want to be emotionally connected and stay relevant to their family, friends and contacts. Forwarding messages, which they think can be useful to others, is one way of doing that.
“This practice is probably seen more in people who have lower self-esteem and who want to be the first in breaking sensational news to others,” Dr Andrew told The Star.
But in their excitement to share the news, they forego verifying the content or the authenticity of the source, he said.
He said most people who shared false information tend to be those who are new to social media, but there are also other groups that share hoaxes for different reasons.
Dr Andrew said studies have also found a separate group of netizens who share hoaxes for fun. They are mostly “bored and unoccupied”, or have a personal agenda.
“There are people who fully realise that a certain piece of news is fake but send it on anyway. These people can have their own agenda and enjoy evoking emotions of anger and disgust in others,” he said.
He said studies showed that most false news stories propagated were the ones that evoked anger, disgust or sadness, rather than joy.
“This means the fake news forwarded can contribute towards suspicion, distrust, fear and social unrest. People who forward any news to others must be accountable for the potential implications arising from the dissemination of such messages,” he said.
A Pew Research Centre poll found that in the United States, 23% of Americans said they have shared made-up news stories, either knowingly or not.
More than half of Americans said they encountered fake news on their social media news feeds on a daily basis, and the poll also found that this has caused about 88% of the populace to be confused over facts.