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Infodemic: the effect of death-related thoughts on news-sharing

, Edison Tan, Tania Lim

Abstract: Research on the sharing of fake news has primarily focused on the manner in which fake news spreads and the literary style of fake news. These studies, however, do not explain how characteristics of fake news could affect people’s inclination toward sharing these news articles. Drawing on the Terror Management Theory, we proposed that fake news is more likely to elicit death-related thoughts than real news. Consequently, to manage the existential anxiety that had been produced, people share the news articles to feel connected to close others as a way of resolving the existential anxiety. Across three experimental studies (total N = 416), we found that it was not news type per se (i.e., real versus fake news) that influenced news-sharing intentions; instead, it was the increased accessibility to death-related thoughts elicited from the content of news articles that motivated news-sharing. The findings support the Terror Management framework and contribute to the existing literature by providing an empirical examination of the underlying psychological motive behind fake news-sharing tendencies.
Keywords: Fake news / Terror management theory / Mortality salience / Death-thought accessibility / News-sharing

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