Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 38 Number 1 2021 pp. 196-221

The Effectiveness of Social Norms in Fighting Fake News on Social Media

Gimpel, Henner, Heger, Sebastian, Olenberger, Christian, and Utz, Lena


Fake news poses a substantial threat to society, with serious negative consequences. Therefore, we investigate how people can be encouraged to report fake news and support social media platform providers in their actions against misinformation. Based on social psychology, we hypothesize that social norms encourage social media users to report fake news. In two experiments, we present participants a news feed which contains multiple real and fake news stories while at the same time exposing them to injunctive and descriptive social norm messages. Injunctive social norms describe what behavior most people approve or disapprove. Descriptive social norms refer to what other people do in certain situations. The results reveal, among other things, that highlighting the socially desired behavior of reporting fake news using an injunctive social norm leads to higher reporting rates for fake news. In contrast, descriptive social norms do not have such an effect. Additionally, we observe that the combined application of injunctive and descriptive social norms results in the most substantial reporting behavior improvement. Thus, social norms are a promising socio-technical remedy against fake news.

Key words and phrases: Fake news, social norms, online reporting behavior, social media, injunctive norms, descriptive norms