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Tagging Fake Articles Is Failing To Combat Fake News

By Rupert Hargreaves. Originally published at ValueWalk.

So-called “fake news” and not in form of The Onion (which is obvious satire) has been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. The world’s first daily newspapers, which were printed in London’s Fleet Street in the early 1700s, were full of stories and hearsay designed to influence readers and drum up sales. However, the readership of these papers was relatively limited compared to the size of the audience available to online publications today.


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The dissemination of information has never been easier than it is today and while this is, for the most part, good news, it means that controlling the spread of fake or misleading news, and even sarcasm from sites like The Onion is harder than ever before.

The prevalence of fake news during last year’s presidential election made it clear how easy it has now become for misleading news to influence public opinion. It also showed how difficult it has become for readers to tell the difference between fake and real news.

At the end of last year, the Guardian reported on a study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, which assessed more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states on their ability to assess information sources. According to the paper, researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements of satire like The Onion from articles.

Tagging Fake Articles Even Obvious Satire Like The Onion Is Failing To Combat Fake News

Various solutions to the fake news plague have been proposed including tagging fake articles with “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers” warnings and making articles’ sources more salient by adding publisher logos, however, even these tactics are failing to impact the ‘accuracy judgments’ of readers according to a new study from Yale University scholars.

The study, titled Assessing the effect of “disputed” warnings and source salience on perceptions of fake news accuracy tested the effectiveness of tagging fake articles with “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers” on 5,271 participants 56% of whom preferred Clinton over Trump across five experiments conducted in July and August 2017. What the researchers found is that such an approach has a relatively small impact:

“With respect to disputed warnings, we find that tagging articles as disputed did significantly reduce their perceived accuracy relative to a control without tags, but only modestly (d=.20, 3.7 percentage point decrease in headlines judged as accurate). Furthermore, we find an “implied truth” effect – particularly among Trump supporters and those under 26 years of age – whereby untagged fake news stories are seen as more accurate than in the control. We also find a similar implied truth effect for real news, whose perceived accuracy is increased by the presence of disputed tags on other headlines.”

Making articles’ sources more salient also failed to have a measurable impact on readers’ perception of accuracy (this second study was performed with a smaller sample size of 2,453):

“With respect to source salience, we find no evidence that adding a banner with the logo of the headline’s publisher had any impact on accuracy judgments whatsoever.” 

So tagging news as fake or The Onion as satire does not appear to be a solution for this “problem”

Pennycook, Gordon and Rand, David G., Assessing the Effect of ‘Disputed’ Warnings and Source Salience on Perceptions of Fake News Accuracy (September 15, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3035384

Tagging Fake Articles Is Failing To Combat Fake News The Onion The Onion

These findings point to the conclusion that the current methods used to try and reign in the spread of fake news are not working and, as the paper concludes, “new (empirically supported) strategies are needed.

The post Tagging Fake Articles Is Failing To Combat Fake News appeared first on ValueWalk.

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