Fake news has become both the rallying cry and chief weapon of the current administration, challenging how we consume and vet information. The question of how to inoculate yourself against fake news without giving up social media all together in this political climate seems impossible, but a group of psychologists may have hit on a "vaccine" to fight the growing spread of misinformation. (When I said "inoculate," I really did mean inoculate.)
According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of adult Americans get their news from social media, and a fifth of Americans rely on these sites as their primary source. Without a sufficient vetting system in place, false claims — or "alternative facts," as the case may be — can infiltrate and spread through social media like a virus.
A recent study published in the journal Global Challenges, however, suggests not only that we can immunize ourselves to false content, but moreover, that how we do it should be approached in much the same way as how we teach our bodies to fight infection. That's right: We can do it through inoculation — exposing ourselves to a weakened version of the contagion to raise our defenses to the real thing.
In the study, researchers from Yale, Cambridge, and George Mason Universities found that the veracity of the news made no difference if the "facts" appeared believable. When a group of participants were presented with a persuasive piece of fake news stating that 31,000 scientists agreed that climate change was not man-made, without any other information or context, being exposed to the fake "fact" (i.e. lie) made the participants 9 percent more likely to change their views to coincide with those propagated by the fake news.
Another group shown the widely agreed-upon statistic that “97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening” in the form of a pie chart changed their opinion in favor of climate change, while respondents exposed to both pieces of news side-by-side didn't change their previously-held beliefs.
To attempt to fight the false claims, a group was shown the pie chart evidence with a statement reading, "Some politically motivated groups use misleading tactics to try and convince the public that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists." The psychologists found that "preemptively warning people about politically motivated attempts to spread misinformation helps promote and protect ('inoculate') public attitudes about the scientific consensus." When people were additionally provided with information directly debunking the false claims, they changed their opinions in favor of climate change.
So how do we use these findings to actively prevent fake news from entering our systems? Check out the steps bellow to protect yourself against being hoodwinked by another case of "alternative facts."