The best ways to spot fake news on social media & help stop the spread of it

Posted at 6:05 AM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 11:16:44-05

(WXYZ) — Social media algorithms can change what you see and how you view the world. Echo chambers narrow our exposure to differing viewpoints and in some cases, can overload us with access to false information.

This week is news literacy week, and we're partnering with the News Literacy Foundation to help provide you with ways we can all spot misinformation that's meant to trick or mislead us.

Related: National News Literacy Week challenges public to test, improve news literacy skills

In a time of instant information gratification, immeasurable amounts of data online are at our fingertips. Some say it's both a blessing and a curse

“The downside of that is we it's very conducive to selective thinking," Helen Lee Bouygues said. She's a fake news expert and critical thinking advocate with The Reboot Foundation.

For the last few years, they have been studying fake news and the misinformation ecosystem.

“What's the link between fake news and critical thinking? There's actually quite a bit because fake news is a bit of a symptom of not doing proper critical thinking," she said.

Social media has been a great boon to all kinds of activists because of its ease of use, but it also allows for easy targeting.

Bouygues says it's different from going to the library to look up information. It's less deliberate, and algorithms drive your choices rather than you.

"The negative side is you are naturally being tunnel-visioned in terms of even the sources of information that you're gathering," she said.

At the same time, trust in established news sources has been on the decline over the last 50 years.

According to Gallup, that confidence dropped to its all-time low in 2016 with only 32% of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

“There's skepticism even about institutional sources," she said.

Another alarming trend that compounds the issue of fact vs. fiction came from MIT researchers.

They found that false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories, and it takes six times as long for true stories to reach the same number of people as false ones.

“People are not only falling into the trap of their cognitive biases, they're nurturing it via different channels of information gathering," Bouygues added.

After former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter on Jan. 8, researchers at analytics firm Zignal Labs say election misinformation dropped by 73%.

Research also indicated that the spread of misinformation on Twitter is attributed more to people than bots.

Three things Bouygues recommends:

  • Avoid single sources of information
  • Resist clicking on the first links in your online search
  • Familiarize yourself with common tactics used by some to mislead, like conspiracy theories and trolling, which prey on emotional reactions

"Ultimately people don't want to be duped. That's in our human nature. And ultimately we want to spend that extra time to have better information," Bouygues added.

In a time when information is being weaponized, experts say it's best to think twice before you retweet.