Three in four Americans overestimate their ability to spot false news stories, study finds

Study also finds Republicans more likely to fall for fake news than Democrats

Namita Singh
Tuesday 01 June 2021 10:20 BST
<p>Representative: A chalk message about "Fake News" is written on the street at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, on 5 November 2020 in Washington, DC</p>

Representative: A chalk message about "Fake News" is written on the street at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, on 5 November 2020 in Washington, DC

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As many as three in four Americans overestimate their ability to spot fake headlines, making them more vulnerable to disinformation, found a recent study by the University of Utah.

The study, published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, also revealed Republicans are more likely to fall for fake news than Democrats.

The survey, involving 8,200 participants, was aimed at examining the public's susceptibility to false news due to their inability to recognise their own limitations in identifying such information. It did so by asking the participants to evaluate the accuracy of a series of Facebook headlines and then rate their own abilities to discern false news content.

Researchers used these two measures to assess overconfidence among respondents and how it is related to beliefs and behaviours and found that individuals who firmly believe they are able to identify false news are more likely to fall victim to it.

The study revealed that about 90 per cent of respondents reported they had an above-average ability to discern between false and legitimate news headlines. The survey found three in four individuals overestimated their ability to distinguish between real and fake news headlines.

"Our results paint a worrying picture. Many people are simply unaware of their own vulnerability to misinformation,” said Ben Lyons, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah. "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,” he said.

Here's a short guide on how to spot fake news

There are eight simple steps to verify a news piece

1. Investigate the source of information: Probe the website hosting the story and the people behind the organisation.

2. Check the author: What is the credibility of the person behind the report? Are they real? Have they been fact-checked often?

3. Original date: Sometimes older news reappears in the newsfeed. But republishing them does not make them relevant to the current events.

4.Keep a check on your biases: Are you sharing the news because it fits your worldview to unfairly back a narrative?

5. Read critically: Do the headlines feel like an effort to get clicks? Corroborate the information in the story with other sources.

6. Supporting sources: If possible, click on the sources of the news report and check if they are actually a part of it and not have been used out of context to present a distorted picture.

7. Is it a joke? : Sometimes, a satirical take could be presented as a serious view on the situation.

8. Ask the experts: Closely follow the fact-checking website and experts to form a more informed view on the issue.

Source: The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

Using data measuring respondents' online behaviour, the researchers also show that those who overrate their ability more frequently visit websites known for spreading false or misleading news.

“These overconfident respondents are also less able to distinguish between true and false claims about current events and report higher willingness to share false content, especially when it aligns with their political leanings,” he added.

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