Sharing content on social media can make people less able to accurately recognize the truth, according to a new peer-reviewed study published in Science Advances last week.
Researchers recruited 3,157 US-based participants to fill out an online survey. All the participants used either Facebook or Twitter.
The study asked participants one or two groups of questions in differing order. They were asked if they would share an article based on the headline and/or if they felt the headline contained accurate information.
The headlines that participants were shown related to politics and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which participants were better at recognizing the news?
Participants that were asked if they would share the content before they were asked if they thought the content was accurate, were 35% worse at deciphering the truth.
However, participants that were asked if they thought the information was accurate, before being asked if they would share it, were only 18% less successful at deciphering the truth.
"Just asking people whether they want to share things makes them more likely to believe headlines they wouldn't otherwise have believed, and less likely to believe headlines they would have believed...Thinking about sharing just mixes them up," Dr. David Rand, a professor at MIT and co-author of the study
Ziv Epstein, a Ph.D. student and coauthor of the study, added that "the second you ask people about the accuracy, you're prompting them, and the second you ask about sharing, you're prompting them...If you ask about sharing and accuracy at the same time, it can undermine people's capacity for truth discernment."
Interestingly, being asked if they would share the content had a greater impact on the Republic participants than the Democrat participants.
Dr. Rand reassured that the sharing of fake news was likely not the result of ill intent, but that social media has produced a landscape where people are distracted from the truth.