Facebook touts its partnership with outside fact-checkers as a key prong in its fight against fake news, but a major new Yale University
study finds that fact-checking and then tagging inaccurate news stories on social media doesn't work.
The study , reported for the first time by POLITICO, found that tagging false news stories as disputed by third party fact-checkers has only a small impact on whether readers perceive their headlines as true. Overall, the existence of disputed
tags made participants just 3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false, the study said.
The researchers also found that, for some groups--particularly, Trump supporters and adults under 26--flagging bogus stories could actually end up increasing the likelihood that users will believe fake news. This because not all fake stories are
fact checked, and the absence of a warning tends to add to the credibility of an unchecked, but fake, story.
Researchers Gordon Pennycook & David G. Rand of Yale University write in their abstract:
Assessing the effect of disputed warnings and source salience on perceptions of fake news accuracy
What are effective techniques for combatting belief in fake news? Tagging fake articles with Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers warnings and making articles' sources more salient by adding publisher logos are two approaches that have received
large-scale rollouts on social media in recent months.
Here we assess the effect of these interventions on perceptions of accuracy across seven experiments [involving 7,534 people].
With respect to disputed warnings, we find that tagging articles as disputed did significantly reduce their perceived accuracy relative to a control without tags, but only modestly (d=.20, 3.7 percentage point decrease in headlines judged as
Furthermore, we find a backfire effect -- particularly among Trump supporters and those under 26 years of age -- whereby untagged fake news stories are seen as more accurate than in the control.
We also find a similar spillover effect for real news, whose perceived accuracy is increased by the presence of disputed tags on other headlines.
With respect to source salience, we find no evidence that adding a banner with the logo of the headline's publisher had any impact on accuracy judgments whatsoever.
Together, these results suggest that the currently deployed approaches are not nearly enough to effectively undermine belief in fake news, and new (empirically supported) strategies are needed.
Presented with the study, a Facebook spokesperson questioned the researchers' methodology--pointing out that the study was performed via Internet survey, not on Facebook's platform--and added that fact-checking is just one part of the company's
efforts to combat fake news. Those include disrupting financial incentives for spammers, building new products and helping people make more informed choices about the news they read, trust and share, the spokesperson said.
The Facebook spokesman added that the articles created by the third party fact-checkers have uses beyond creating the disputed tags. For instance, links to the fact checks appear in related article stacks beside other similar stories that
Facebook's software identifies as potentially false. They are powering other systems that limit the spread of news hoaxes and information, the spokesperson said.