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Social media makes it difficult to distinguish real news from fake news

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In a recent study, researchers found that people who watch a mix of news and entertainment on a social media site tend to pay less attention to the source of the content they are consuming – meaning they are satire or Easily confuse fiction with real news.

People who viewed content that was clearly categorized, such as current affairs and entertainment, did not experience the same problems in assessing the source and credibility of the content they read. The study appears online in the journal New Media & Society.

The results show the dangers of people receiving their messages from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, said study author George Pearson, a senior lecturer and research fellow in communications at Ohio State University.

“We are drawn to these social media sites because they are one-stop shops for media content, updates from friends and family, and memes or cat pictures,” said Pearson.

“But this mess of content makes everything seem the same to us. That makes it more difficult for us to distinguish what we have to take seriously from what is just entertainment. “

For the study, Pearson created a fictional social media site called “Link Me”. The 370 participants saw four websites with two or four posts each. Each post consisted of a headline and a short paragraph summarizing the story and information about the source of the post.

The sources have been designed to have either high or low credibility based on their name and description. (The sources’ credibility was tested in a previous study to make sure people understood.)

For example, a source with high credibility was called the Washington Daily News and was described as a “professional news organization known for quality and objective journalism.”

One source with little credibility in the study was named “Hot Moon” and described as “a collective of lay authors”.

All posts were based on real articles or public social media posts from Reddit or Tumblr.

After visiting the website, participants were asked various questions. What Pearson was most interested in was whether they paid more attention to current affairs than to other categories, such as entertainment.

“That would suggest they pay attention to the sources of the posts and understand what is news and what is not,” Pearson said.

The results showed that participants reported paying less attention to the source of the content if the content wasn’t grouped by topic – in other words, news items appeared on the same page as entertainment items.

“They were less likely to check source information to make sure it was a credible source,” he said.

That could be a reason satirical and other types of fake news are shared by people who obviously believe they are real, Pearson said.

For example, in 2018 the React365 website published an article about a cruise ship disaster in Mexico that killed at least 32 people. The article generated more than 350,000 engagements on Facebook.

The misinformation was quickly exposed by Snopes.com, who found that React365’s homepage clearly showed that it was a hoax website where people could upload their own fictional stories.

Pearson said one of the problems is that many social media sites present content the same way regardless of the source.

“On Facebook, there is no visual difference between something from the New York Times and something from a random blog. They all have the same color scheme, the same font, ”he said.

One solution would be for social media companies to develop tools to differentiate the content.

But until that happens, it’s up to users to be more careful about where their messages are coming from – difficult as that may be, Pearson said.

“At the moment, the structure of information platforms – especially social media – can reduce positive media literacy behavior.”

(This story was posted from a news agency feed with no text changes. Only the headline was changed.)

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