Misinformation on social media is not a new problem, but we may never have felt its impact so strongly as in 2020. That’s because this year misinformation has contributed to the death of thousands from coronavirus. The problem of combating incorrect health advice has seemed insurmountable. But now new research suggests that there may be a way to help people read what they see more critically.
At a time where wearing masks and social distancing has profound power to slow or even stop the coronavirus outbreak, many Americans are choosing not to do it. Why has it been so hard to get people to adopt these simple measures? There are many reasons, including that people have a hard time understanding exponential spread or the way our brain has a hard time noticing consequences that happen three weeks later.
But the impact of misinformation on social media cannot be minimized. What we choose to post on social media has literally become a matter of life and death, because it influence decisions people make.
According to a new report in the journal Psychological Science, priming people to think about accuracy can make them more careful about what they later post on social media.
“People often assume that misinformation and fake news is shared online because people are incapable of distinguishing between what is true and what is false,” said lead author Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina, Canada in a press release. “Our research reveals that is not necessarily the case. Instead, we find that people tend to share false information about COVID-19 on social media because they simply fail to think about accuracy when making decisions about what to share with others.”
The research team ran two studies, enlisting 1700 adults. In one study they collected 15 false and 15 true headlines about Covid-19. The team ran the headlines through a rigorous fact checking process to determine their truthfulness. Sources included reliable sites like mayoclinic.com and livescience.com, and mythbusters like snopes.com.
Researchers then presented the headlines to study participants as Facebook posts. The participants then told them whether they thought the posts were accurate and if they would share them. That’s when researchers found that people are more likely to share misleading information if they relied on intuition. They also found that, generally speaking, people didn’t think a lot about accuracy when they looked at these posts.
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