Many people depend on social media for information. As of 2020, 57% of U.S. millennials relied on social media for daily news. But how often do people question the accuracy of information gleaned and shared on social media? The stakes are high, as misinformation may lead to dangerous decisions, such as drinking disinfectant under the belief that it helps combat COVID-19.

Why Do People Share Fake News?

Recent research suggests that the sharing of false news on social media often stems from a lack of attention to accuracy. Many users share false news not because they are incompetent, or confused, or to deliberately deceive others, but rather because they don't consider the possibility that the content might be false.

This insight opens new avenues for interventions that focus on accuracy. Prompting users to think about accuracy reduces the sharing of false news, while keeping the sharing of true news unaffected.

How Do You Combat Sharing Fake News?

Information quality is determined by the ratio of real to fake news. Enhancing information quality requires increasing the sharing of true news, not just decreasing the sharing of fake news. Thus, an ideal intervention would both decrease the sharing of fake news and increase the sharing of real news. This is exactly what we have found in a study that examined a new form of accuracy prompt—endorsing accuracy.

Embedding a short message, "I think this news is accurate", into the sharing button prompts users to consider both the content's accuracy and whether they want to provide a public endorsement of its accuracy. We found that this approach not only decreased intentions to share fake news, but also increased intentions to share real news.

In four studies, we asked approximately 1500 participants from the United States to express their willingness to share a series of news headlines. Half of the headlines were entirely false—taken from sites producing only fake news—and half were true. Some participants had the accuracy message embedded into the sharing button, and others did not.

Including the accuracy message decreased intentions to share fake news and increased intentions to share real news, while leaving overall sharing unaffected. This is important because social media companies are more likely to implement interventions that do not reduce overall engagement. The effect of the intervention did not diminish over the course of the experiment. The effect may vanish at some point, but it remains an open question as to when.

Why is Endorsing Accuracy an Effective Intervention to Combat Fake News?

Endorsing accuracy likely has a dual effect. On the one hand, it makes the concept of accuracy salient. But it does something more: it makes people more carefully consider their sharing decisions. When people believe a headline is true, they are more likely to consider sharing it, perhaps because they feel more responsible for what they are sharing. We plan to investigate the underlying psychological mechanism through which our accuracy intervention works in the future.

Minimally invasive interventions such as accuracy prompts also have an important practical advantage: they are simple to implement on social media at virtually zero cost. Endorsing accuracy as an intervention increases the quality of information, without affecting its quantity. Consequently, we hope that social media platforms will consider this intervention in their fight against misinformation.

For Further Reading

Capraro, V., & Celadin, T. (2023). "I think this news is accurate": Endorsing accuracy decreases the sharing of fake news and increases the sharing of real news. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 49, 1635-1645. DOI: 10.1177/01461672221117691

Tatiana Celadin is a researcher at the Faculty of Economics at Ca' Foscari University of Venice. Her research focuses on the aging of society, cognitive processes, and misinformation. Throughout her research career, she has also studied cooperation. She has published several articles in international journals.

Valerio Capraro is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Milan-Bicocca. He uses experimental games, mathematical modeling, and numerical simulations to understand which factors promote cooperation, honesty, and other forms of moral behaviour. His work has been published in leading international journals.