How people react to fake news on Twitter, Facebook decoded

There are a lot of people who are trying to be good consumers of information


When it comes to fake news on Facebook and Twitter, some users outright ignore it, many take it at face value, some investigate whether it is true while others get suspicious, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) in the US wanted to know how people investigated potentially suspicious posts on their own social media feeds.

The team watched 25 participants scroll through their Facebook or Twitter feeds while, unbeknownst to them, a Google Chrome extension randomly added debunked content on top of some of the real posts.

"We wanted to understand what people do when they encounter fake news or misinformation in their feeds. Do they notice it? What do they do about it?" said study senior author Franziska Roesner, a UW associate professor.

"There are a lot of people who are trying to be good consumers of information and they're struggling. If we can understand what these people are doing, we might be able to design tools that can help them," Roesner said.

The researchers recruited participants aged between 18 and 74 from across the Seattle area in the US, explaining that the team was interested in seeing how people use social media.

Participants used Twitter or Facebook at least once a week and often used the social media platforms on a laptop.

The team then developed a Chrome extension that would randomly add fake posts or memes that had been debunked by a fact-checking website on top of real posts to make it temporarily appear they were being shared by people on participants' feeds.

Participants had various reactions to encountering a fake post: Some outright ignored it, some took it at face value, some investigated whether it was true, and some were suspicious of it but then chose to ignore it, the researchers said.

In general, they found that participants ignored many posts, especially those they deemed too long, overly political or not relevant to them.

However, certain types of posts made participants sceptical. For example, people noticed when a post didn't match someone's usual content.

Sometimes participants investigated suspicious posts -- by looking at who posted it, evaluating the content's source or reading the comments below the post -- and other times, people just scrolled past them.