Fake News: Examining the Power of Social Media by Demographics and National Culture

Author: Turki Salah S Althiyabi

Althiyabi, Turki Salah S, 2018 Fake News: Examining the Power of Social Media by Demographics and National Culture , Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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Abstract

The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of demographics and culture on the spread of fake news via social media in Saudi Arabia. Social media has made access to and exchange of news and information in written, verbal and visual form, very convenient and easy. As a result, fake news has been a growing phenomenon. Fake news refers to un-substantiated and un-verified information whose purpose or source has been fabricated. While political marketers have long used the language of fear and persuasion in their messaging, the attention placed on fake news is increasing in intensity throughout the world, from the Arab Spring to the 2016 United States Elections. The country selected for this study is Saudi Arabia as the spread of fake news has led to the government recognising the detrimental effect that fake news can have on the political stability of the country. The Arab Spring was a wake-up call for the Saudi government to realize the impact that social media can have on its citizens. Therefore, the research question of this study is ‘What is the influence of demographics and national culture on the uptake of fake news through social media in Saudi Arabia?’

In addressing this research question, the study drew upon the literatures on technology adoption, specifically, the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), electronic Word of Mouth (eWom) and national culture. It then involved an online quantitative survey to enable the researcher to gain insights into the factors which lead to the spread of fake news through social media in Saudi Arabia. 107 responses were received from Saudi Arabian social media users. Data was then analysed using Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) with AMOS to determine the most significant factors impacting on the uptake of fake news.

Findings revealed that national culture had both direct and indirect effects but the direct effect was stronger than indirect effects (via electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWom) factors such as comprehensibility). Based on the results, the conclusion is that national culture plays a significant role in the spread of the fake news on social media. In terms of the influence of demographics, evidence was weak. Out of three demographic categories, age had the greatest effect on the uptake of fake news compared to education and gender. This is surprising as popular media has attributed demographic factors, such as gender and education, to the spread of fake news. It should be reiterated that data was based on Saudi Arabia. Future studies can examine the influence of these factors in other societies.

The study has made an important theoretical contribution. It has extended technology adoption theory by integrating factors from e-Wom (comprehensibility, reliability), demographics (age, gender, education) and culture in understanding the spread of fake news via social media. Additionally, it also offers practical implications in providing evidence to increase awareness and sensitivity on the influence of demographic and cultural factors on the uptake of fake news through social media in Saudi Arabia.

Keywords: social media, fake news, national culture, Saudi Arabia

Subject: Computer Science thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Giselle Rampersad