The proliferation of fake news reports online has been identified as an important trend in the 2016 election, to the point where a man brought an assault rifle into a Washington, DC, pizzeria to “self-investigate” a story that the restaurant was a front for a child sex trafficking ring run by Hilary Clinton.

Even if you don’t fall prey to these fake news stories, the sheer proliferation of them on social media sites like Facebook can have a lasting effect over time, according to APA member Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Research on what psychologists call the ‘continued influence effect’ suggests that it's remarkably difficult to prevent information that you know to be false from affecting your judgment anyway. Unfortunately, the brain doesn't have a mechanism for removing false information from your memory, so those ideas continue to be recalled,” says Markman. “As a result, we're forced to think just as thoroughly about ideas we know to be false as those we know to be true. That makes it difficult to counteract the impact of these false statements that then stubbornly persist.”

Markman recommends three steps people can take to help defend against the continued influence effect of fake news:

• Subscribe to reputable newspapers and magazines. The mainstream media remain an important source of verifiable information in an era when anyone can garner attention with a clickbait headline.• Stop using your social media feeds as your primary source of news. Most people tend to live in echo chambers of their own creation, where most of the news stories they encounter on social media have a slant that mirrors their own biases, and therefore are more likely to be believed, even if they are fake.• Carve out time to read more deeply about the topics you care about. That could mean reading long form magazine stories that treat topics in depth, watching documentaries by credible filmmakers, or buying nonfiction books by experienced journalists and authors. Ultimately, defending yourself against a steady tide of misinformation isn't easy, and there are no shortcuts.

He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-232-4645