A new study by Dias, Pennycook and Rand (2020) found that disclosing publishers’ information to social media users “had virtually no impact“ on whether they “believed news headlines or considered sharing them”. As recently witnessed, different social media platforms have been developing strategies and applying measures with the aim of fighting fake news and misinformation. Among those is the strategy of disclosing further information about the source of news circulated on each platform.
The authors argue that such measures are more based on “intuitive sense” than on empirical evidence. Such argument is based on the study findings and the fact that social media platforms – such as Facebook and YouTube who apply this strategy – have not published any assessment of its effectiveness in enabling users to detect misinformation, as the authors highlight.
The study relies on a series of experiments “with nearly 7,000 Americans“, based on which the authors found that “emphasizing publishers did not affect the perceived accuracy of either false or true headlines” and hence had no impact on the sharing intentions. Not only do the authors demonstrate the inadequacy of this strategy to fight misinformation on social media, but that it can actually be “counterproductive“. One of the study findings is that the majority of headlines published by “fake and hyperpartisan” sources were actually true – 65 out of 120 headlines – with less than a third being false. In that sense, underlining sources could interfere with enhancing users’ ability to differentiate between truths and falsehoods.
With the current COVID-19 health crisis, misinformation and fake news emerge, almost equally, threatening the wellbeing of societies. Over the past couple of months “fake news and conspiracy theories” about coronavirus, its origin and potential cures have rapidly spread around the world in the wake of the outbreak. Such alarming facts shed light on the importance of collaboration between the different stakeholders – academia, news media, technology companies and users – for effective results against misinformation.