The ubiquity and dispersive power of social media, sophisticated micro-targeting and artificial intelligence is being weaponized by malicious actors to influence people to believe and spread fake news, creating an urgent need for increased cross-disciplinary research to help combat it. Using the metaphor of a virus spread through human agency, we use established research in persuasive communications, cognition and media studies to conceptualize a multi-agent, multi-variant framework on why people propagate false information on social media. Our conceptual framework accounts for the roles and communicative postures individuals adopt, and their motivation and ability to spread falsities. It posits that humans have persuasive, viral and cognitively inoculated agency in the propagation of false information and elucidates the thought processes and variables that influence how individual’s respond and react to false information. The framework will support empirical studies and aid in the development of integrated approaches to cognitively inoculate individuals against the influence of false information, using multi-disciplinary, multi-variant approaches that are reflective of the complexity of how humans respond to persuasive messages.



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