Why do People Disseminate Fictitious Accounts? A Systematic Analysis of snopes.com

  •  Simon Moss    
  •  Samuel G. Wilson    


People often disseminate fictitious information and contrived anecdotes, some of which can be destructive. This
paper explores the proposition that most, if not all, fictitious information can be classified into four clusters.
Each cluster reinforces one of four underlying determinants of positive emotions—unambiguous duties, moral
authorities, extensive capabilities, and stable values over time. This framework is derived from socio-emotional
selectivity theory, self-discrepancy theory, and the meaning maintenance model. To assess these propositions,
1500 fictitious claims, derived from snopes.com, were subjected to thematic analysis. To code these claims, all
nouns and verbs were translated to broader categories. Then, researchers sorted these abstracted claims into 88
piles of overlapping accounts. These 88 accounts were next sorted into 19 broader piles, each reflecting a distinct
theme. All 19 themes aligned to one of the four underling determinants of positive emotions. These findings
indicate that, arguably, the need to curb negative emotions and to foster positive emotions motivates these biased
and fictitious accounts. The findings also highlight several distinct avenues in which each of these four needs can
be fulfilled. The implications of these findings to a range of issues, from violence and mental illness to
advertising and marketing, are discussed.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.