Study Finds Social Media Sharing Reduces Ability to Detect Truth from Falsehoods
A new experiment conducted by MIT scholars reveals that even considering whether or not to share news items on social media reduces people’s ability to tell truths from falsehoods.
People were asked to assess whether various news headlines were accurate, and if they were first asked whether they would share that content, they were found to be 35% worse at telling truths from falsehoods.
Participants were also 18% less successful at discerning the truth when asked about sharing right after evaluating them.
This suggests an essential tension between sharing and accuracy in social media.
The study involved two waves of online surveys of 3,157 Americans who use either Twitter or Facebook.
They were randomly assigned to two groups and shown a series of true and false headlines about politics and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sometimes they were asked only about accuracy or only about sharing content, while other times they were asked about both questions in different orders.
The researchers then explored two hypotheses about sharing and news judgments.
The first hypothesis proposed that being asked about sharing could make people more discerning about the content because they would not want to share misleading news items.
The second one proposed that asking people about sharing headlines could detract from their ability to tell truth from falsity by feeding into the generally distracted condition in which consumers view news while on social media.
The results suggest the second hypothesis is true.
Furthermore, the study found that being prompted about sharing content affected the judgment of Republicans more than Democrats when it came to Covid-19 headlines, although there was not a parallel effect for political news headlines.
The researchers suggest that social media platforms could be redesigned to create settings in which people are less likely to share misleading and inaccurate news content.
The project was funded, in part, by various organizations.