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Shifting online incentive structures to reduce polarization and the spread of misinformation

In: Research Handbook on Nudges and Society


  • Steve Rathje
  • Sander van der Linden


This chapter argues that the online spread of polarizing content and misinformation is shaped by the incentive structures of social media platforms. Research indicates that divisive content (especially about one’s political out-group) is more likely to go “viral” online—even though most social media users report that they do not want this type of content to spread widely. In other words, the social media “attention economy” incentivizes users, politicians, and news sources to post divisive content, since this content is more likely to capture people’s attention and keep them engaged on social media platforms. The chapter outlines ways to improve online behavior by shifting the incentive structures of online platforms. Specifically, we review psychological interventions that can be implemented within the social media design structure—such as changing social media algorithms, instilling accuracy motives, shifting information diets, and pre-bunking—and discuss tradeoffs between these bottom-up “nudges” and the need for larger-top-down systemic solutions (such as policy changes, content moderation, and regulation).

Suggested Citation

  • Steve Rathje & Sander van der Linden, 2023. "Shifting online incentive structures to reduce polarization and the spread of misinformation," Chapters, in: Cass R. Sunstein & Lucia A. Reisch (ed.), Research Handbook on Nudges and Society, chapter 6, pages 91-108, Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:elg:eechap:22035_6

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