Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume 9, Article number: 162 (2022)

Carlos Carrasco-Farré

Not all misinformation is created equal. It can adopt many different forms like conspiracy
theories, fake news, junk science, or rumours among others. However, most of the existing
research does not account for these differences. This paper explores the characteristics of
misinformation content compared to factual news—the “fingerprints of misinformation”—
using 92,112 news articles classified into several categories: clickbait, conspiracy theories,
fake news, hate speech, junk science, and rumours. These misinformation categories are
compared with factual news measuring the cognitive effort needed to process the content
(grammar and lexical complexity) and its emotional evocation (sentiment analysis and appeal
to morality). The results show that misinformation, on average, is easier to process in terms
of cognitive effort (3% easier to read and 15% less lexically diverse) and more emotional (10
times more relying on negative sentiment and 37% more appealing to morality). This paper is
a call for more fine-grained research since these results indicate that we should not treat all
misinformation equally since there are significant differences among misinformation categories that are not considered in previous studies.

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