Study: disconnecting from Facebook reduces belief in fake news

An extremely large study has found that a six-week break from Facebook can significantly reduce an individual’s chances of believing online misinformation.

The study, published in PNAS, was the largest social media deactivation experiment ever conducted. It involved over 35,000 Facebook and Instagram users who agreed to disconnect during the 2020 US presidential election.

Academics collaborated with researchers at Meta, the parent company of the social network. The firm allowed access to platform data and algorithms.

Knowing now how much fake news there was on Facebook during the 2020 US presidential election, the result of the experiment isn’t exactly surprising.

The study showed that its participants, the ones who disconnected from Facebook, were less likely to believe online misinformation after they were allowed to log in again – even though they also became less politically engaged on social media.

There are four key findings. First, obviously, deactivation reduced political participation, again, mostly online.

“Second, Facebook deactivation had no significant effect on an index of knowledge, but secondary analyses suggest that it reduced knowledge of general news while possibly also decreasing belief in misinformation circulating online,” says the study.

Third, Facebook deactivation may have reduced self-reported net votes for Donald Trump, who was competing against – and eventually lost to – Joe Biden.

"Deactivation decreased Trump’s favorability, decreased turnout among Republicans, and increased turnout among Democrats," says the report.

Finally, the effects of both Facebook and Instagram deactivation on affective and issue polarization, the perceived legitimacy of the election, candidate favorability, and voter turnout were all precisely estimated and close to zero.

“We find precisely estimated zero effects of both Facebook and Instagram access on the perceived legitimacy of the electoral process, including perceptions of electoral fraud,” says the study.

Trump’s camp is still drum-beating lies about alleged voter fraud in 2020, and conspiracy theories about voting machines are gaining ground once again – Trump is almost certain to be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in this year’s election.

Various US courts, including the Supreme Court, have heard numerous of Trump’s legal challenges and rejected them all.