Editorials, Opinion

Who gets fooled by fake news?

In not-so-breaking news: The University of Cambridge reports that people who primarily get their news from social media are less likely to be able to distinguish real headlines from fake headlines. 

Which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, though some of the demographic breakdowns did surprise us. 

The University of Cambridge created a two-minute(ish) quiz comprised of 10 real headlines and 10 fake headlines that asked participants to decide if a headline was real or fake and then asked for certain demographic information, such as age, political affiliation, time spent on social media and primary source for getting news. 

The polling organization YouGov administered the test to U.S. participants and found “on average — adult U.S. citizens correctly classified two-thirds (65%) of headlines they were shown as either real or fake. … younger adults are worse than older adults at identifying false headlines, and that the more time someone spent online recreationally, the less likely they were to be able to tell real news from misinformation,” according to the university’s report on the findings. 

These results run counter to the idea that older people have a harder time distinguishing fake news from real news, but it does reinforce the idea that social media is awash in misinformation. (See the commentary below for more information on that.) And it makes sense that if someone is constantly surrounded by fake news, the false headlines can begin to sound true — kind of like how a rumor or lie repeated often enough starts to sound like truth. 

While there was a distinct difference between generations, the results also showed a division based on political affiliation. One-third of respondents who identify as Democrats received “high” scores (14-20 correct) vs. 14% of those identifying as Republicans. That said, roughly 25% of respondents from both political parties scored in the “low” bracket (13 or fewer correct). 

One of the most surprising findings — and certainly the most gratifying for us — is that those who primarily got their news from “legacy media” performed better on the test: “over 50% of those who got their news from the Associated Press, or NPR, or newer outlets such as Axios, achieved high scores.” This tells us that news media (not entertainment-news) is still the best source of information, no matter the format. 

So perhaps older generations should encourage younger people to subscribe to reputable news sources (maybe even gift them a subscription) or, at the very least, encourage them to follow reliable news sources on social media. 

If you’d like to take the test yourself, you can do so at https://yourmist.streamlit.app/.  

And you can follow The Dominion Post on Facebook or Twitter (@DominionPostWV) to see real headlines on social media.