The U.S. federal election of 2016 shone a spotlight on the insidious effects of fake news. Since then, social media platforms like Facebook have become a target of consumer and regulator scrutiny for their role in rapidly spreading false information concerning a variety of politically and socially charged topics. In response, many social media platforms now offer advice about how to detect fake news, and about how to evaluate the credibility of information online.

Via an online experiment, research in the JDM Lab tested whether exposure to a series of straightforward guidelines for detecting fake news could slow its spread on social media platforms like Facebook. Participants either read a series of guidelines, or read and rated the importance of each guideline, before evaluating a Facebook post which contained either real or fake news about climate change.

Results from our research demonstrated that reading a series of straightforward guidelines for detecting fake news about climate change led people to provide lower ratings of trust in fake news and, importantly, to be less willing to “like” or “share” it. These two variables are especially important because “liking” and “sharing” fake news on social media leads to its proliferation. In addition, our results demonstrated that exposure to these guidelines did not make people less likely to trust, like, or share legitimate climate news.

These positive results indicate potential for guidelines to contribute to diminishing the influence of fake news in an applied setting.

This research was led by Lauren Lutzke and Dr. Caitlin Drummond. Click here for more information about this research.