Misinformation has found a new natural habitat in the digital age. Thousands of forums, blogs, and alternative news sources amplify fake news and inaccurate information to such a degree that it impacts our collective intelligence. Researchers and policy makers are troubled by misinformation because it is presumed to energize or even carry false narratives that can motivate poor decision-making and dangerous behaviors. Yet, while a growing body of research has focused on how viral misinformation spreads, little work has examined how false narratives are in fact constructed. In this study, we move beyond contagion inspired approaches to examine how people construct a false narrative. We apply prior work in cognitive science on narrative understanding to illustrate how the narrative changes over time and in response to social dynamics, and examine how forum participants draw upon a diverse set of online sources to substantiate the narrative. We find that the narrative is based primarily on reinterpretations of conventional and scholarly sources, and then used to provide an alternate account of unfolding events. We conclude that the link between misinformation, conventional knowledge, and false narratives is more complex than is often presumed, and advocate for a more direct study of this relationship.
- fake news
- online conversation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Computer Science Applications