UT Study: Spotting Fake News On Social Media Not As Easy As It Seems

Chris Fox
November 20, 2019 - 9:12 am

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AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - For those of you who think you may be good at spotting fake news posted on Social Media, you’re not. That’s the conclusion of a new study out of the University of Texas.

The Study is called Fake News on Social Media: People Believe What They Want to Believe When it Makes No Sense at All. They studied whether more than 80 students could detect fake news headlines, whether the Facebook Warning flag saying ‘Disputed by 3rd Party Fact Checkers’ had any influence and brainwave activity.

In the study, participants fitted with a wireless electroencephalography headset were asked to read political news headlines presented as they would appear in a Facebook feed and determine their credibility. They assessed only 44% correctly, overwhelmingly selecting headlines that aligned with their own political beliefs as true. The EEG headsets tracked their brain activity during the exercise.

“We all believe that we are better than the average person at detecting fake news, but that’s simply not possible,” said lead author Patricia Moravec, assistant professor of information, risk and operations management. “The environment of social media and our own biases make us all much worse than we think.” According to Moravec the highest performing student in the study was only able to identify fake headlines 66% of the time and 75% of the students tested scored at 50% or below.

Political affiliation made no difference in their ability to determine what was true or false. “People’s self-reported identity as Democrat or Republican didn’t influence their ability to detect fake news,” Moravec said. “And it didn’t determine how skeptical they were about what’s news and what’s not.”

As for the warning flag placed by some of the headlines, Moravec said, “we saw that the warning flag, the disputed by 3rd party fact checker flag, did not work as intended. So it actually didn’t lower people’s belief in the headline. So essentially it just didn’t work.”