ALBANY, N.Y. (June 3, 2021) – While most of us believe we can sniff out fake news, a new study has found that as many as three in four Americans are overestimating their ability – and the worse they are at it, the more likely they are to share misinformation.
The study, published out of the University of Utah in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surveyed a total of 8,285 respondents. They were asked to evaluate the accuracy of a series of Facebook headlines and then rate their abilities to spot false news content. Roughly 90 percent of respondents rated themselves above average.
Trudi Jacobson, a distinguished librarian at the University at Albany, believes these findings paint a worrying picture.
“The ability to spot false headlines is not a trait some people are born with and others aren’t. It takes time and effort to become adept at doing so,” Jacobson said. “What I find most concerning about this study is that the individuals who were least equipped to identify false news content were also the least aware of their limitations and, therefore, more susceptible to believing it and spreading it further.”
Jacobson outlined several simple steps to help better spot misinformation: Check the headline for words that carry emotion, try to think rationally about whether this news sounds likely or if it just meshes well with your views, and “triangulate” the news from sources of different perspectives.
She also suggests that everyone takes the Common Misconceptions test offered by the organization Clearer Thinking and becomes familiar with the Metaliteracy Framework, which emphasizes the importance of becoming a responsible citizen and ethical consumer, sharer and creator of information.
“It can be eye-opening to realize your powers of discernment may not be what you think they are, regardless of your level of education, profession or political leanings,” Jacobson said. “Recognizing that one’s judgments on the truthfulness of headlines or content aren’t infallible will, hopefully, keep down the negligent sharing of false information in the future.”
Jacobson has authored a number of publications that focus on differentiating what’s real and what’s not in the digital world. She is the co-author of “Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners,” written with Thomas Mackey of SUNY Empire State College. They have also co-edited four volumes on library/faculty information literacy collaborative endeavors, and written articles that have appeared in a number of scholarly journals.