A group of researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education released a study that shows the inability of students on recognizing between fake and real content.

In these days, the discussion among the veracity of online news has been controversial. The role taken by social platforms regarding news distribution is affecting directly how people are getting their information.  According to the Pew Research Center, about 62 percent of American adults get their news from social media. This represented a rise on that same statistic from 2012 when 49 percent of adults told researchers that they saw their news from social platforms.

In these days, the discussion among the veracity of online news has been controversial. Photo credit: StopFake.org
In these days, the discussion among the veracity of online news has been controversial. Photo credit: StopFake.org

Now the study is centered on youngsters and, according to the authors, the results are worrying.  About 82 percent of students surveyed cannot recognize between fake and real news.

A total of 7,804 students from across 12 states participated in 54 different tasks regarding “the ability to judge the credibility of information that foods young people’s smartphones, tablets, and computers,”, as it is explained in the report made by the Stanford History Education group, supported by the Robert M. McCormick Foundation.

The team part of the investigation was formed by students from middle school, high school, and college education. Each group, divided by their educational level, had to complete a series of tasks to define their ability to identify news, veracity of the source, and if the author was capable of providing that information.

The middle school had to analyze the content of news present on Twitter, the comment section in several newspapers, and the advertisements on Home Pages of news sites. The high school students had to evaluate news from Facebook regarding their veracity (like the blue check mark that says if Facebook has recognized the source as trustworthy) and, afterward, compare the comments that were present in every selected news.

The most complex exercises were given to the college students.  Every student had to do an article evaluation regarding the reliability of both the information and the website that provided it. Also, this group of students had to make claims on social media content by explaining why the information in question can or cannot be trusted by users.

This study is the most extensive and specialized research when it comes to investigating the reasoning of students regarding the evaluation of information that they see on online news sites or social networks.

Results of the study

A total of 82 percent of middle-schoolers that were part of the survey cannot identify correctly between “sponsored” news and real news from a particular website. Most teens affirmed that the reliability of a tweet depends directly on how much information the tweet contains or if the publication comes along the posting of a large photo. The group results show that they do not take into consideration the source of the content.

More than two-thirds of middle-schoolers can’t tell any good reason not to trust a publication made from a bank company that argues the need for adults to have more financial-helping plans.

Four in ten high-school students trusted a picture that showed a field of deformed daisies in Japan and believed that this was because of the field being toxic because of its closeness to a nuclear plant. This photo didn’t have any particular source, location, or author. Just a headline about the Japanese Area being dangerous. Nothing else.

Also, a different study made by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that Stanford students have trouble identifying between a mainstream and a fringed source.

The researchers told reporters that they were “shocked” by the high amount of students that were being fooled by false information by judging them as “trustworthy.”

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.” the investigators explained in the study.

Social media platforms. What to do now?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been criticized in the past on relation with fake news having too many engagements in that network. These critics came alongside his “influence” on the US presidential election, but the truth is, according to a BuzzFeed analysis, that fake news spread much more easily than any other content. This phenomenon makes tough for platforms like Facebook’s News Feed to avoid the propagation of fraudulent information.

Major social media networks like Google and Facebook are working significantly to prevent this kind of misinformation among users. They have considered the possibility of banning any website that provides fake news to the population. Also, Facebook has examined the possibility of working alongside organizations and journalists that could help with the detection of false news.

“We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done,” Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook Wall.

He has said that an effective way to fight the misinformation is for users to work on reporting and making warnings on malicious content.

Source: The Wall Street Journal