Source credibility key to curb fake news: Study

Last Updated: Thu, May 09, 2019 12:25 hrs
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New York: Establishing credibility for news sources is the right policy to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media platforms, say researchers.

Fake news has become a threat to democratic institutions worldwide and false information can have far-reaching effects.

Researchers from Cornell University now provide new evidence that people's beliefs about the source of information affects how they take in that information, even at the level of their automatic responses.

They also found that new information can modify or even undo existing impressions caused by fake news.

"We wanted to know whether offering information about the source of news matters for people's gut-level, automatic reactions," said Melissa Ferguson, Psychology Professor at Cornell.

"Does knowing that something is fake have lingering pernicious effects that can later shape and influence our thoughts and behaviour toward the person? Our studies suggest that establishing credibility for news sources is the right policy to combat fake news," Ferguson emphasized.

Ferguson and her fellow researchers conducted seven experiments with more than 3,100 participants to assess how the truth value of new information about others affected both their reported feelings and their gut-level, automatic reactions.

The experiments ranged from using video games and narratives of inter-group conflicts to studies featuring an individual named Kevin.

In one experiment, Kevin was depicted positively. Participants were then told something disturbing, including that he had been arrested for abusing his wife.

Researchers found that when news about the arrest came from police reports, gut-level attitudes toward Kevin immediately became more negative.

But when that information was attributed to a friend of Kevin's former girlfriend, participants retained their positive attitude toward Kevin.

"In other words, whether participants thought this new information was true determined even their automatic feelings," the researchers wrote in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a separate experiment, this occurred even if participants initially thought the information was true and only later discovered that it was from a questionable source, the study noted.