The spread of false information on social media is a dangerous trend that will have serious effects on the 2020 presidential election. In fact, studies suggest that fake news garners more public interest than news from reliable, mainstream sources, making social media an effective tool for propaganda.
According to a recent study on the dissemination of misinformation, coupling headlines with credibility flags from fact-checkers, the general public, news media, and even artificial intelligence (AI) can decrease peoples’ intentions to share.
However, the effectiveness of these alerts varies with political orientation and gender. The good news for truth seekers? Official fact-checking sources are overwhelmingly trusted.
The study, led by Nasir Memon, professor of computer science and engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and Sameer Patil, visiting research professor at NYU Tandon and assistant professor in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington, goes further, examining the effectiveness of a specific set of inaccuracy notifications designed to alert readers to news headlines that are inaccurate or untrue.
The work, “Effects of Credibility Indicators on Social Media News Sharing Intent,” published in the Proceedings of the 2020 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, involved an online study of around 1,500 individuals to measure the effectiveness among different groups of four so-called “credibility indicators” displayed beneath headlines:
- Fact Checkers: “Multiple fact-checking journalists dispute the credibility of this news”
- News Media: “Major news outlets dispute the credibility of this news”
- Public: “A majority of Americans disputes the credibility of this news”
- AI: “Computer algorithms using AI dispute the credibility of this news”
Upon initial inspection, we found that political ideology and affiliation were highly correlated to responses and that the strength of individuals’ political alignments made no difference, whether Republican or Democrat. The indicators impacted everyone regardless of political orientation, but the impact on Democrats was much larger compared to the other two groups.Professor Nasir Memon
“We wanted to discover whether social media users were less apt to share fake news when it was accompanied by one of these indicators and whether different types of credibility indicators exhibit different levels of influence on people’s sharing intent,” says Memon. “But we also wanted to measure the extent to which demographic and contextual factors like age, gender, and political affiliation impact the effectiveness of these indicators.”
Over 1,500 Americans who took part viewed a series of 12 news headlines that were either accurate, misleading, or satirical. Only the satirical or fake headlines had a red font believability signal underneath the headline. Respondents were questioned about whether they would share each headline’s associated article with friends on social media and if so, why.
“Upon initial inspection, we found that political ideology and affiliation were highly correlated to responses and that the strength of individuals’ political alignments made no difference, whether Republican or Democrat,” says Memon. “The indicators impacted everyone regardless of political orientation, but the impact on Democrats was much larger compared to the other two groups.”
The most effective of the credibility indicators, by far, was Fact Checkers: Study respondents intended to share 43% fewer non-true headlines with this indicator versus 25%, 22%, and 22% for the “News Media,” “Public,” and “AI” indicators, respectively.
Effects of Political Affiliation
The research team discovered a significant relationship between political affiliation and each credibility indicator’s propensity to affect intention to share. In fact, the AI credibility indicator actually induced Republicans to increase their intention to share non-true news:
- Democrats intended to share 61% fewer non-true headlines with the Fact Checkers indicator (versus 40% for Independents and 19% for Republicans)
- Democrats intended to share 36% fewer non-true headlines with the News Media indicator (versus 29% for Independents and 4.5% for Republicans)
- Democrats intended to share 37% fewer non-true headlines with the Public indicator, (versus 17% for Independents and 6.7% for Republicans)
- Democrats intended to share 40% fewer non-true headlines with the AI indicator (versus 16% for Independents)
- Republicans intended to share 8.1% more non-true news with the AI indicator
Republicans are less likely to be influenced by credibility indicators, more inclined to share fake news on social media.
Patil says that while fact-checkers are the most effective kind of indicator, regardless of political affiliation and gender, fact-checking is a very labor-intensive. He says the team was surprised by the fact that Republicans were more inclined to share news that was flagged as not credible using the AI indicator.
“We were not expecting that, although conservatives may tend to trust more traditional means of flagging the veracity of news,” he says, adding that the team will next examine how to make the most effective credibility indicator fact-checkers efficient enough to handle the scale inherent in today’s news climate.
“This could include applying fact checks to only the most-needed content, which might involve applying natural language algorithms. So, it is a question, broadly speaking, of how humans and AI could co-exist,” he explains.
The research team also discovered that men planned to spread false headlines 1.5 times more often than women, with the Public and News Media indices showing the biggest discrepancies.
Men are more likely to spread false information on social media because they are less likely to be swayed by credibility indications. However, signs, particularly those from fact-checkers, lower overall intention to spread false information.
The primary claimed reason for meaning to spread phony news was because they were seen to be humorous, while the most common reported reason for intending to share headlines was socializing.