Written by Brian Good on June 1, 2021,
Regardless of your political party or belief system, many people believe social media and certain “news” sources are filled with questionable takes on current events that can only be described as “fake” news. While most Americans believe they can spot these fake stories and won’t fall for what publications are trying to spin, a new troubling study cautions that most Americans are wrong. In reality, the majority of us aren’t able to accurately spot fake news.
CNN’s Ryan Prior has reported that “as many as 3 in 4 Americans overestimate their ability to spot false headlines — and the worse they are at it, the more likely they are to share fake news.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and involved a group of more than 8,200 men and women who were shown various headlines in a “Facebook-like” feed and then asked to determine which stories were true. The majority of people studied were not able to spot the fake news — even though as many as 90% of study participants believed they had an above-average ability to do so.
According to Ben Lyons, a professor of communications at the University of Utah, the biggest overall takeaway from the research is “Republicans are more likely to fall for fake news than Democrats are.” Republicans are also more overconfident in their ability to spot fake news, which Lyons said is “not surprising given the lower levels of media trust they report.”
Lyons and his team of researchers also found that “overconfident individuals are more likely to visit untrustworthy websites in behavioral data; to fail to successfully distinguish between true and false claims about current events in survey questions; and to report greater willingness to like or share false content on social media, especially when it is politically congenial.”
“In all, these results paint a worrying picture,” Lyons said. “The individuals who are least equipped to identify false news content are also the least aware of their own limitations and, therefore, more susceptible to believing it and spreading it further.”
In a statement explaining the study, Lyons elaborated further, saying, “Though Americans believe confusion caused by false news is extensive, relatively few [people] indicate having seen or shared it. If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly be more likely to consume, believe and share it, especially if it conforms to their worldview.”