Study on people who turned off Facebook: effect on their perception of news and disinformation

People who turned off Facebook for six weeks knew less news but were less inclined to trust disinformation, the study found.

Researchers suggest that Facebook is helping people become more involved in politics online.

Facebook users who abandoned their accounts for six weeks were less knowledgeable of current events and marginally less likely to believe in disinformation. Scientists from Stanford, New York University, and Meta conducted this study, as reported by NiemanLab.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the study, “The effects of Facebook and Instagram on the 2020 election: A deactivation experiment,” on May 13.

Quitting Facebook had a “slightly significant positive effect on factual knowledge,” according to the researchers.

The study included 19,857 Facebook users and 15,585 Instagram users who deleted their accounts for six weeks. Some participants also agreed to passive surveillance, which tracked how they read news, used social media, and visited websites. The researchers matched the participants to vote outcomes in their respective states, publicly available campaign funds, and Meta platform data.

The study discovered that users who deactivated their Facebook accounts were less likely to vote for Trump. “Estimates show that quitting Facebook reduced the proportion of voters choosing Trump by about 1%,” said Stanford’s Matthew Gentzkow.

Deactivation had no substantial effect on voter participation or belief in the election’s legality. It also had no apparent impact on the polarization of views towards political opponents or topics.

“This suggests that if access to Facebook contributes to political polarization, this effect is either small or accumulates over a longer period than 5 weeks,” the researchers conclude.

However, the deactivation caused individuals to spend less time online and engage in less public political participation. After deactivating, they shifted some of their activities to other social networks and news outlets.

However, they spent a quarter of the time on other resources, as they did on Facebook. They also began to sign fewer internet petitions and write about politics.

“Facebook is really contributing to the fact that people are more involved in politics online,” said Gentzkow.

Users who deactivated their Facebook accounts were less likely to believe in common misinformation, the researchers concluded. Also, the account suspension had a “marginally significant positive effect on factual knowledge.”

The researchers warned that their findings are only directly indicative of the study’s participants, and that they do not know what the outcomes would have been in another year or outside of the election time.

“However, we believe that our findings can inform readers about the potential impact of social media in the final weeks of a high-profile national election,” the authors wrote.

In April, EU officials expressed concerns about the way Meta’s social media platforms are countering Russia’s attempts to influence the June European Parliament elections.

The European Union will launch an investigation into Facebook and Instagram as it fears that Meta Corporation, which owns these platforms, is not doing enough to counter disinformation from Russia and other countries. The Financial Times reported this, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

Recently, many European leaders expressed concerns over disinformation campaigns targeting the upcoming June European elections, including Russia’s disinformation operations.

Read all articles by Insight News Media on Google News, subscribe and follow.
Scroll to Top