Fake news can pose a real danger to the wellbeing of a society. Therefore, media companies and researchers alike have been trying to develop ways to combat their spread or their influence on people. Scientists from the UK and the US believe that internet users can be inoculated to their influence by providing users with a contextual warning regarding the quality of the information.
For their study, researchers from Yale and George Mason University in the United States have joined forces with social psychologists from Cambridge University to find new ways to limit both the spread and influence of fake news on the internet.
Taking inspiration from traditional medicine which treats a virus infection with slightly less dangerous forms of the virus to inoculate the host against its effects, the researchers have devised a series of fake news articles regarding climate change. In their article, they combined real facts about the phenomenon with select attempts at misinformation.
The articles were presented to groups of people in the US from all political orientations, be it democrat, republican or independent. However, before they were able to read the contents of the articles, the readers were presented with a general warning that the article may include skewed data or even precise warnings regarding a specific aspect of the fake news article.
The researchers discovered that when fake news articles presented as genuine news without any warning to their content, they led to people questioning basic facts about climate change and its reality. The result was the same whether or not the article only contained false information or just some of falsehoods alongside the truth.
However, when the researchers showcased the warning regarding the quality of the content of an article, the readers were observed to become less influenced by the information they just read. Furthermore, a specific warning which debunked a climate change myth was more efficient in combating the influence of fake news than just a general warning regarding possible misinformation.
The positive effect of the warnings was seen in all the people surveyed, no matter their political orientation. However, scientists are concerned that the use of repeated warnings might lead to people becoming desensitized to them and just tune them out without noticing.
What do you think about the study’s findings?