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Establishing Credibility of News Sources Can Combat Spread of Fake News

Researchers found that when news about the arrest came from police reports, gut-level attitudes toward Kevin immediately became more negative

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Multiple apps are displayed on an iPhone in New York. VOA

Establishing credibility for news sources is the right policy to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media platforms, say researchers.

Fake news has become a threat to democratic institutions worldwide and false information can have far-reaching effects.

Researchers from Cornell University now provide new evidence that people’s beliefs about the source of information affects how they take in that information, even at the level of their automatic responses.

They also found that new information can modify or even undo existing impressions caused by fake news.

“We wanted to know whether offering information about the source of news matters for people’s gut-level, automatic reactions,” said Melissa Ferguson, Psychology Professor at Cornell.

“Does knowing that something is fake have lingering pernicious effects that can later shape and influence our thoughts and behaviour toward the person? Our studies suggest that establishing credibility for news sources is the right policy to combat fake news,” Ferguson emphasized.

Ferguson and her fellow researchers conducted seven experiments with more than 3,100 participants to assess how the truth value of new information about others affected both their reported feelings and their gut-level, automatic reactions.

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Trump supporter holds a T-shirt reading “You Are Fake News” before a rally by President Donald Trump in Rochester, Minnesota, Oct. 4, 2018. Freedom House says that democracy in the U.S. weakened significantly and blames U.S. President Donald Trump for “ongoing attacks.” (Representational image). VOA

The experiments ranged from using video games and narratives of inter-group conflicts to studies featuring an individual named Kevin.

In one experiment, Kevin was depicted positively. Participants were then told something disturbing, including that he had been arrested for abusing his wife.

Researchers found that when news about the arrest came from police reports, gut-level attitudes toward Kevin immediately became more negative.

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But when that information was attributed to a friend of Kevin’s former girlfriend, participants retained their positive attitude toward Kevin.

“In other words, whether participants thought this new information was true determined even their automatic feelings,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a separate experiment, this occurred even if participants initially thought the information was true and only later discovered that it was from a questionable source, the study noted. (IANS)

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Here’s how People Themselves Become the Source of Misinformation

People can self-generate their own misinformation

Sometimes, you yourself can become the source of misinformation. Pixabay

Do not blame partisan news outlets and political blogs for feeding you fake news as there’s another surprising source of misinformation on controversial topics — it is you.

A new study has found that people, given accurate statistics on a controversial issue, tended to misremember those numbers to fit commonly held beliefs.

For example, when people are shown that the number of Mexican immigrants in the US declined recently – which is true but goes against many people’s beliefs – they tend to remember the opposite.

And when people pass along this misinformation they created, the numbers can get further and further from the truth.

“People can self-generate their own misinformation. It doesn’t all come from external sources,” said Jason Coronel, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“They may not be doing it purposely, but their own biases can lead them astray. And the problem becomes larger when they share their self-generated misinformation with others”.

The researchers conducted two studies to confirm this.In the first study, they presented 110 participants with short written descriptions of four societal issues that involved numerical information.

Fake news
People generate fake news in order to fit commonly held beliefs. Pixabay

The researchers found that people usually got the numerical relationship right on the issues for which the stats were consistent with how many people viewed the world.

In the second study, the researchers investigated how these memory distortions could spread and grow more distorted in everyday life. Coronel said the study did have limitations.

For example, it is possible that the participants would have been less likely to misremember if they were given explanations as to why the numbers didn’t fit expectations.

The researchers didn’t measure each person’s biases going in – they used the biases that had been identified by pre-tests they conducted.

But the results did suggest that we shouldn’t worry only about the misinformation that we run into in the outside world, Poulsen said in a paper published in the journal Human Communication Research.

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“We need to realize that internal sources of misinformation can possibly be as significant as or more significant than external sources,” she said.

“We live with our biases all day, but we only come into contact with false information occasionally”. (IANS)