The proliferation of fake news on social media, particularly Facebook, and some websites on the internet is a growing concern. In an attempt to solve this problem, researchers developed a “vaccine” that can immunize people against fake news.
Inspired By Vaccines
Vaccinating a person against a virus exposes the body to a weakened version of the threat. The exposure is just enough to help build the body’s tolerance against the pathogen.
Social psychologists think that a similar mechanism can be used to “inoculate” people against misinformation including those that involve climate change, U.S. election, and Syria.
In a new University of Cambridge study, researchers developed psychological tools that can potentially address fact distortion.
Study author Sander van der Linden likened misinformation to a virus. He said that bogus claims are sticky and spread and replicate like a virus. The new psychological tools, on the other hand, work similar to how vaccines protect the body against infectious diseases.
How The Fake News Vaccine Works
The researchers said that it is easier to cancel out bogus claims by pre-emptively exposing news readers to a small dose of misinformation.
“We wanted to see if we could find a vaccine by preemptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience — a warning that helps preserve the facts,” van der Linden said.
“The idea is to provide a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation, so the next time people come across it they are less susceptible.”
For their study published in the journal Global Challenges, van der Linden and colleagues presented more than 2,000 individuals in the United States with two claims about global warming. The experiment wanted to compare the participants’ reactions to a well-accepted climate change fact and to that of a popular misinformation campaign.
The researchers found that when the false materials were presented consecutively, they completely cancelled out the evidence-based facts in the participants’ minds.
When the researchers added small dose of misinformation to the evidence-based climate change by briefly presenting the distortion tactics that certain groups used, they observed that the “inoculation” helped hold the people’s opinion closer to truth regardless of being followed up with exposure to fake news.
“It’s useful to forewarn people generally because it makes them more cautious about the information that they encounter,” van der Linden said. “But if you arm people will actual arguments — because it’s often the problem that people don’t feel confident in their arguments — then that can help inoculate people against misinformation.”
Fake News A Growing Problem In This Age Of Social Media
Deliberately making up news stories that present false information is not new, but the advent of social media has made it more difficult to distinguish real from fictional stories. A Stanford study has even found that the supposedly technically savvy generation of students are easily duped by fake contents in the internet.
In an attempt to combat misinformation on social media, Facebook is set to test anti-fake news tools in Germany.
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