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Justifying an Invasion: When is Disinformation Successful?


Conventional wisdom suggests that social media, especially when used by authoritarian powers with nefarious aims, leaves citizens of democratic countries vulnerable to psychological influence campaigns. But such concerns overlook predispositions among recipients of false claims to reject (or to endorse) conspiratorial narratives.


Analyzing responses from a survey fielded in 19 countries, we find that it is a pre-existing conspiracy outlook at the individual level, more so than media diets, which consistently predicts rating Russia’s pretenses for the invasion as more accurate. In all countries, individuals who view the world in general with a conspiratorial mindset are more likely to believe war-related disinformation. Receiving news via YouTube, Facebook, or Tik-Tok is also associated with greater belief in Russian narratives justifying the invasion in several countries, but these relationships are weaker compared to those observed for conspiracy thinking. Without downplaying a potential positive role for media interventions, the findings highlight the importance of a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of conspiratorial thinking.

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