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article imageDouble-take: Do warnings about fake news actually help?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 6, 2020 in Internet
To safeguard the public from fake news, many websites and social media outlets have put in place warnings about content. New research suggests that such labels do not convince everyone and may actually encourage the belief that the news is genuine.
The key finding from the study, which comes from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is that disclaimers about certain fake news stories can lead to some people being more likely to readily believe in alternative false news stories. Such disclaimers are now common on platforms like Facebook, for example (as warning triangles for items that have been disputed by third-party fact-checkers).
READ MORE: Video game Misinformer aims to teach players about fake news
However, the process of tagging certain news items as 'fake' can drive many readers to become more likely to take-in other stories and share them. This occurs even if the additional news stories later turn out to be false. The rate that stories subsequently turn out to be fake does not appear to deter the activity of sharing social media content.
The researchers have concluded that the selective labeling of fake news tends to lead to other news stories becoming more legitimate. This phenonomeon is referred to as the "implied-truth effect" of news consumption. These findings were drawn from a large social media experiment, where participants were given a mix of 'fake' and 'true' news stories, with some of the 'fake' news stories marked with warnings and others without any warnings.
In other words, an unintended consequence of legitimate media to combat disinformation does not necessarily lead to an increase in critical thinking amongst the general population especially when using social media. Part of this stems from ambiguity from social media users about whether untagged stories have been verified and declared 'true' or whether the news item has yet to be fact checked.
ALSO READ: How to identify a fake account on Facebook
The researchers suggest that instead of marking stories as 'fake' or 'false' it is more effective to mark stories that have passed a fact checking process with "Verified". This way any story not marked verified can be treated with more caution.
The research has been presented to the journal Management Science, where the study paper is titled "The Implied Truth Effect: Attaching Warnings to a Subset of Fake News Headlines Increases Perceived Accuracy of Headlines Without Warnings."
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