scientist Jula Lühring

Misinformation and Emotions on Social Media

In social media, misinformation is often difficult to distinguish from facts. In her research, Jula Lühring, doctoral candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences, investigates whether emotions make us fall for misinformation or help us to recognize it. In the video, she explains what role AI plays in this.
Jula Lühring is a doctoral candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences. Her research explores whether misinformation triggers stronger emotional responses on social media. Watch the video to find out more! © Benjamin Furtlehner

Do emotions make people more susceptible to misinformation? While the World Economic Forum has highlighted misinformation as one of the short-term global risks, research indicates that only a minority of people actually fall for it, typically when it aligns with their existing beliefs. "In populist and polarized contexts, misinformation thrives especially when trust in democracy and institutions is low," says Jula Lühring, doctoral candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences.

How social media attracts attention

Although emotions can serve as helpful signals, their role in the context of misinformation remains unclear. Do emotions make us more vulnerable for misinformation, or do they help us better recognize it? This is the central question that Jula Lührung at the Computational Communication Science Lab explores by examining whether misinformation elicits stronger emotional responses, leading to higher engagement on social media.

Social media platforms, using AI algorithms, recommend content to us, effectively capturing our attention. However, these platforms often guard the specifics of how their algorithms work, complicating researchers' efforts to determine whether it is the algorithms or human behaviour that intensifies the spread of misinformation.

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Since 2020, the Vienna Doctoral Schools provide excellent conditions including team supervision and various funding possibilities that enable the realisation of international competitive research. Doctoral candidates find an active and inspiring research environment, a vibrant doctoral community and many ways to connect with peers from home and abroad on a social and professional level.

AI and the flood of misinformation

With advancements in generative AI, such as ChatGPT, there are growing concerns that the Internet will soon be flooded with even more misinformation. "Yet, the key issue is not just the volume or quality of misinformation, but whether it can capture people's attention in our competitive information environment," says the young social scientist and explains: "People are drawn to misinformation not just because it seems believable, but because it aligns with their beliefs or benefits them in some way."

Misinformation and emotions

Using vast amounts of social media data, Jula Lühring studies the interplay between misinformation and emotions in their natural habitat. "Analyzing social media data is complex, as it's challenging to distinguish individual from collective behaviour and account for the algorithmic designs of these platforms. Misinformation acts as a tool, finding its perfect audience more effectively on social media," she explains. 

Her research aims to identify the causes and effects of misinformation, ultimately informing policies and helping rebuild public trust in democracy. "I chose the University of Vienna for its Computational Communication Science Lab and the Complexity Science Hub, as I believe interdisciplinary collaboration between social scientists and computer scientists is crucial to addressing these techno-social challenges." (red)

© Benjamin Furtlehner
© Benjamin Furtlehner
Jula Lühring is a doctoral candidate at the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences of the University of Vienna and the Complexity Science Hub, Vienna. In her interdisciplinary research, she explores the complex interactions between emotional dynamics and social conflict in the dissemination of misinformation on social media.

While she previously investigated why people believe in misinformation, she now focuses on the effects of misinformation on online communities, increasingly relying on big data and computer-assisted methods. In the context of growing partisan animosity and general distrust, she is interested in whether misinformation functions differently than accurate information.