In novel coronavirus times, there is so much fake news going around and according to new research, there’s a price to pay when you get your news and political information from the same place you find funny memes and cat pictures.
Jumbling of content makes viewers less likely to check sources, said the team from Ohio State University, adding that people viewing a blend of news and entertainment on a social media site tended to pay less attention to the source of content they consumed – meaning they could easily mistake satire or fiction for real news.
“The findings show the dangers of people getting their news from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter,” said study author George Pearson, a senior lecturer and research associate in communication at Ohio State University.
“We are drawn to these social media sites because they are one-stop shops for media content, updates from friends and family, and memes or cat pictures,” Pearson added.
People who viewed content that was clearly separated into categories – such as current affairs and entertainment – didn’t have the same issues evaluating the source and credibility of the content they read.
“Jumbling of content makes everything seem the same to us. It makes it harder for us to distinguish what we need to take seriously from that which is only entertainment,” said Pearson in the study appeared in the journal New Media & Society. For the study, Pearson created a fictional social media site called “Link Me.”
The 370 participants saw four webpages with either two or four posts each. Each post consisted of a headline and a short paragraph summarizing the story, as well as information on the source of the post.
The sources were designed to be either high or low credibility, based on their name and description.
All posts were based on real articles or public social media posts taken from Reddit or Tumblr.
The results showed that when the content was not grouped by distinct topics – in other words, news posts appeared on the same page with entertainment posts – participants reported paying less attention to the source of the content.
“They were less likely to verify source information to ensure that it was a credible source,” said Pearson.
That may be one reason why satirical and other types of fake news get shared by people who evidently think it is real. One solution would be for social media companies to develop tools to distinguish the content.
But until that happens, it is up to users to pay more attention to where their news is coming from – as difficult as that may be.