Russian meddling in U.S. elections: How news of disinformation’s impact can affect trust in electoral outcomes and satisfaction with democracy

Andrew R. N. Ross*, Cristian Vaccari, Andrew Chadwick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Russia’s Internet Research Agency (R-IRA) has been a key focus of disinformation research due to its attempts to use social media to influence the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election. However, questions remain about the extent to which news coverage of the R-IRA’s efforts may have shaped public perceptions of U.S. democracy. To assess its impact, we ran an experiment involving U.S. social media users (N = 916). We tested whether reading news reports about the R-IRA’s activities heightened perceptions that the R-IRA influenced the public’s vote choices, and whether this influence in turn reduced confidence in the outcomes of the 2016 and 2020 elections and broader satisfaction with democracy. Specifically, we tested if these indirect effects differ depending on whether the R-IRA activity was presented via news frames conveying certainty or uncertainty about the R-IRA’s impact on the U.S. public’s behavior. While the news frames did not significantly influence perceptions that the R-IRA had influenced the U.S. public in general, the degree of certainty with which they described the effects of the R-IRA differently affected perceptions that Republicans and Democrats had been influenced. This, in turn, influenced participants’ confidence in elections and satisfaction with democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)786-811
Number of pages26
JournalMass Communication and Society
Volume25
Issue number6
Early online date7 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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