Thursday, August 25, 2022

Rolf Degen summarizing... Deepfakes are much less impactful than the scaremongering in the media might lead you to believe

You Won't Believe What They Just Said! The Effects of Political Deepfakes Embedded as Vox Populi on Social Media. Michael Hameleers, Toni G. L. A. van der Meer, Tom Dobber. Social Media + Society, August 25, 2022.

Abstract: Disinformation has been regarded as a key threat to democracy. Yet, we know little about the effects of different modalities of disinformation, or the impact of disinformation disseminated through (inauthentic) social media accounts of ordinary citizens. To test the effects of different forms of disinformation and their embedding, we conducted an experimental study in the Netherlands (N = 1,244). In this experiment, we investigated the effects of disinformation (contrasted to both similar and dissimilar authentic political speeches), the role of modality (textual manipulation versus a deepfake), and the disinformation’s embedding on social media (absent, endorsed or discredited by an (in)authentic citizen). Our main findings indicate that deepfakes are less credible than authentic news on the same topic. Deepfakes are not more persuasive than textual disinformation. Although we did find that disinformation has effects on the perceived credibility and source evaluations of people who tend to agree with the stance of the disinformation’s arguments, our findings suggest that the strong societal concerns on deepfakes’ destabilizing impact on democracy are not completely justified.

Keywords: deepfakes, disinformation, endorsement, misinformation

Although previous research has experimentally tested the impact of political deepfakes (Dobber et al., 2020Vaccari & Chadwick, 2020), important questions remain: Do deepfakes in the political realm have a persuasive advantage over textual modes of deception, and are its effects contingent upon the endorsement by (fake) social media accounts in a “participatory” disinformation order (Lukito et al., 2020Starbird, 2019)? Our main findings indicate that disinformation was rated as substantially less credible than an unrelated authentic speech. However, disinformation was not rated as substantially less credible than malinformation based on an authentic speech of the depicted political actor. Finally, exposure to a deepfake did not yield stronger effects than exposure to textual disinformation.

These findings contradict the ubiquitous concerns on deepfakes in the current digital information age and are not in line with literature on the persuasiveness of multimodal framing (Powell et al., 2018) or deepfakes (Lee & Shin, 2021). To some extent, the lack of effects is in line with previous research on deepfakes indicating that deepfakes do not directly mislead news users (Dobber et al., 2020Vaccari & Chadwick, 2020). Rather, deepfakes may have a more indirect effect by making recipients unsure on what or whom to believe, which, in turn, reduces people’s trust in (online) news (Vaccari & Chadwick, 2020).

Regarding the embedding of disinformation on social media, we found that discrediting the fabricated statements can make disinformation appear more credible. The social endorsement cue does not have this effect. However, endorsing a disinformation message on social media resulted in a more positive evaluation of the depicted politician compared to the absence of such an endorsement. This can be understood as an in-group serving bias: The presence of a source cue similar to the recipient may enhance credibility. These findings show that disinformation agents employing trolls or bots that use inauthentic social media profiles are only effective in increasing the message’s credibility when a fake message is discredited. The democratic implications of these findings are optimistic: Deepfakes, at least based on the current state-of-the-art, do not seem to be as dangerous for society as assumed (Paris & Donovan, 2020). While concerns about information pollution and eroding public trust remain, deepfakes’ ability to destabilize democracy should not be overstated.

We did find some support for the conditional effects of deepfakes and textual disinformation. Overall, disinformation is more effective in affecting the credibility ratings and positive evaluations of the depicted politician among news users already inclined to support the attitudinal stance of disinformation’s statements—which is in line with extant research on the indirect impact of disinformation campaigns (e.g., Schaewitz et al., 2020). We can understand this as a confirmation bias (e.g., Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2017): Disinformation that is congruent with people’s prior beliefs may reinforce these existing beliefs. Yet, we did not find support for a moderating role of prior levels of issue agreement on disinformation’s impact on message congruent beliefs. We can explain this as a ceiling effect: People already inclined to support the attitudinal stance of disinformation are not further bolstering their beliefs based on one single message that reassures the attitudes they already hold.

Despite contributing to our understanding of the political consequences of exposure to socially endorsed deepfakes, this article has a number of limitations. As the deepfake was almost as credible as an authentic decontextualized video (malinformation), we believe that the lack of effects was not only due to technological failures of the deepfake itself but also the lack of plausibility of the extremist political statements associated with the more moderate political actor. Yet, we aimed to strike a balance between actually voiced statements by the political actor and a delegitimizing narrative that would harm the political actor by making him look bad. To achieve this, some deviation from the truth and familiar statements was needed. The finding that people do not clearly differentiate between fabricated disinformation and decontextualized malinformation is an important finding in its own right: In times when the truth has become more relative (e.g., Van Aelst et al., 2017), people may also distrust authentic information when it triggers suspicion due to its unusual nature.

This specific trade-off between audiovisual credibility and argumentative discrepancies needs to be teased out further in the future: How far can a deepfake deviate from a political actor’s profile to still be perceived as credible, and what persuasive techniques can be used to make inauthentic arguments seem real? Hence, future research may experiment with different conditions that are more or less plausible and more or less distant to the everyday communication of a known target. They may also more centrally take into account people’s existing knowledge and beliefs related to the depicted politician’s issue positions. If deepfakes are no longer credible when they deviate too much from reality, this may have positive implications for democracy: There are limits to the “fake reality” shown in synthetic videos, and deepfakes are not capable of making everyone say anything while remaining credible.

We should also note that the construct of perceived credibility we used may mean different things for different participants. While some may interpret the statements as referring to the authenticity of the presented materials, others may see it as the “truth value” of the statements themselves (Lewandowsky, 2021). Against this backdrop, some participants may find a deepfake uncredible because the statements do not have truth value, whereas others detect deception in the presentation of the video. Although robustness checks distinguishing between these drivers of credibility do not point to substantial differences, we suggest future research to rely on a more comprehensive multidimensional measure of credibility that distinguishes between these interpretations. In addition, although exposure to one short deepfake on its own may not affect polarization or political evaluations, the cumulative (targeted or algorithmic) exposure to attitude-consistent disinformation may, over time, exert a stronger influence on people’s beliefs and behaviors. Finally, future research may also need to take individual-level differences into account that could predict susceptibility and resilience to disinformation, such as people’s trust in social versus mainstream media, and formats more likely to contain disinformation.

As a key take-away point, we stress that although the disrupting impact of deepfakes on democracy should not be overstated, deepfakes’ ability to become part of native online political discussions may offer a persuasive advantage when it can find nuanced ways to delegitimize political actors or amplify the political beliefs of targeted groups in society via social media.

We review the evidence linking gender to dishonesty and conclude that men are often more dishonest than women, especially in competitive settings where lies advance self-interest

Gender Similarities and Differences in Dishonesty. Jessica A. Kennedy, Laura J. Kray. Current Opinion in Psychology, August 24 2022, 101461.

Abstract: We review the evidence linking gender to dishonesty and conclude that men are often more dishonest than women, especially in competitive settings where lies advance self-interest. However, gender differences in dishonesty are often small and mutable across situations. We propose that attending to self-regulatory constructs such as moral identity might help researchers move beyond the evolutionary-cultural debates over the origin of gender differences toward identifying factors that promote honesty from both genders.

Keywords: Gender differencesSex differencesDishonestyHonestyTruthMoralityEthics

We experimentally manipulated the reported age of unfamiliar technology and found that people evaluate it more favorably when it is described as originating before (vs. after) their birth

The Golden Age Is Behind Us: How the Status Quo Impacts the Evaluation of Technology. Adam H. Smiley, Matthew Fisher. Psychological Science, August 24, 2022.

Abstract: New technology invariably provokes concerns over potential societal impacts. Even as risks often fail to materialize, the fear continues. The current research explored the psychological underpinnings of this pattern. Across four studies (N = 2,454 adults recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk), we found evidence for the role of status quo thinking in evaluating technology. In Study 1, we experimentally manipulated the reported age of unfamiliar technology and found that people evaluate it more favorably when it is described as originating before (vs. after) their birth. In Studies 2 through 4, participants’ age at the time of invention strongly predicts attitudes toward a wide range of real-world technologies. Finally, we found that individual differences in status-quo-based decision-making moderated evaluations of technology. These studies provide insight into how people respond to the rapidly changing technological landscape.

Keywords: psychology of technology, status quo, judgment, open data, open materials, preregistered

Contrary to findings from previous correlational studies, we do not find any significant impact of social media usage as it was defined in our study on well-being and academic success

Effects of restricting social media usage on wellbeing and performance: A randomized control trial among students. Avinash Collis, Felix Eggers. PLoS, August 24, 2022.

Abstract: Recent research has shown that social media services create large consumer surplus. Despite their positive impact on economic welfare, concerns are raised about the negative association between social media usage and well-being or performance. However, causal empirical evidence is still scarce. To address this research gap, we conduct a randomized controlled trial among students in which we track participants’ daily digital activities over the course of three quarters of an academic year. In the experiment, we randomly allocate half of the sample to a treatment condition in which social media usage (Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat) is restricted to a maximum of 10 minutes per day. We find that participants in the treatment group substitute social media for instant messaging and do not decrease their total time spent on digital devices. Contrary to findings from previous correlational studies, we do not find any significant impact of social media usage as it was defined in our study on well-being and academic success. Our results also suggest that antitrust authorities should consider instant messaging and social media services as direct competitors before approving acquisitions.


In this paper, we analyzed the effects of restricting social media usage. We did not find significant causal effects of social media usage on well-being or academic performance, other than students attempting (but not succeeding) to pass more courses or courses with more credits. However, we found robust evidence of substitution effects that can potentially explain the null finding. Specifically, we showed that social media and instant messaging apps can be substitutes. The European Commission approved Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 based on Facebook’s claim that it operates in a different market and does not compete directly with WhatsApp [52]. Our results indicate that they are in fact direct competitors. After acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook started automatically matching its users’ profiles with their WhatsApp accounts and has started integrating WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook user accounts [53]. The European Commission fined Facebook €110 million in 2017 for this practice because Facebook had provided misleading information about the feasibility of automatically matching profiles during its acquisition of WhatsApp. However while announcing this fine, the Commission still maintained its belief that Facebook and WhatsApp do not directly compete with each other [54]. Antitrust authorities should consider the market power of this combined entity if the world’s biggest social media platforms are integrated with the world’s biggest instant messaging platform. This finding also raises the question how to properly define social networks, for future academic studies or antitrust cases.

While we found null results estimating the causal impact of social media usage on well-being and academic performance, and not all null results matter, we believe that null results are interesting and important in this context. The media has hyped correlational studies showing a negative association between social media usage and well-being and it is important to balance this narrative through causal evidence. A limitation of our study is the lack of a larger sample size to detect smaller effects. While these small effects might not be economically significant, more research is needed using massive samples. Future research can also look at differences between Android and iOS users in more detail with larger samples since we lack power to analyze these differences in our current study. However, it is challenging to recruit a large number of subjects from a representative sample for a long-term study. Direct collaborations with social media platforms or internet service providers (which control internet traffic) could be a way of obtaining data from larger samples. These would also facilitate more targeted interventions such as restricting only content consumption or social interactions on social media [18].

It is interesting to notice that while social media generates large amount of consumer surplus [3], it doesn’t seem to affect the subjective well-being of users. Future research can explore this wedge between consumer surplus and subjective well-being and see whether they are correlated for some products and uncorrelated for others. Future research should also explore the addictiveness of social media in more detail [55]. Our findings in block 3 show that the students in the treatment condition go back to their old habits and do not adopt a lower social media usage that they experienced in block 2. On the other hand, showing students how much time they are spending on social networks via the software seems to have an overall negative trend on its usage (comparing usage in block 1 and block 3). Curing social media addiction (if it is indeed addiction) might therefore be a longer process. Future research can look at mechanisms for the emergence of social media addiction, for e.g. through targeted advertising or news feed algorithms and features of social media apps (e.g. video sharing) which are correlated with addiction.

Moreover, due to our student sample implications for the general population are limited. It could be that students use social media mostly for communication purposes and therefore show significant substitution effects with instant messaging. We might see different effects for users who visit social media for content consumption, e.g., watching videos, instead of social interaction [18]. In this regard, newer social media services such as TikTok might have a different effect. However, these and other comparable social media services were not relevant at the time we conducted the study (as we measured in block 1). More research is needed looking at emerging social media platforms such as TikTok. Moreover, one could define social media more broadly to include instant messaging services and implement a stricter restriction involving all types of communication and social networking apps. However, conducting such a study for any length of time is a challenging endeavor.

Additionally, while we study the impact of social media on students and academic performance, future research can look at workplace settings and study the impact of social media and its substitutes on worker productivity and well-being. We believe that rigorous causal evidence through randomized controlled trials and objectively measured time spent is the way forward in addressing questions regarding the impact of technology on well-being.

The widespread adoption of most major technologies in the past such as radio, television, video games and computers was followed with unfounded fears about their impact on well-being. This story repeats again with social media. We find that social media usage does not cause lower well-being or poor academic performance. Rather, we demonstrate that students find other means of social networking using instant messaging when exogenously restricting their social media usage. To conclude: You can take social networking away from the students, but you cannot take students away from their social network.