Your social circle stymies your ‘fake news’ radar

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Your social group can have a huge impact on how you view the world. But new research shows that the people you hang out or work with might also affect how well you can identify fact from fiction.

Many people have difficulty authenticating online information, and today’s personalized systems on social media are making it even harder to distinguish fact from fake news. A 2016 study, for example,¬†found that 60 percent of college students were unable to correctly evaluate if a tweet was an accurate source of information or not.

Now, researchers have found that social dynamics, or group behaviors and interactions, have a significant impact on evaluating online sources, even when groups have equal access to information. The findings appear in the journal Heliyon.

Peer pressure?

The researchers wanted to explore how students use online sources and how they work together to identify misleading information from factual information.

In the study, researchers gave graduate student groups scavenger hunt tasks that required using online sources and personal knowledge to answer questions correctly. Even though each group had equal access to the internet, individual interactions with one another had the most impact on group performance.

“We imagined that working in groups would actually help the students find the correct information, but that was not the case,” says study coauthor Isa Jahnke, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. “In fact, group dynamics outweighed information access, and discussion and decision-making was more important than the facts.”

For example, one group that performed poorly missed a question because two team members ignored the logic and personal knowledge of the third team member, who had the correct answer. The group that performed best chose to research the questions individually, before coming together to share their answers. The researchers say this strategy might have worked best because there was no discussion that might have influenced other members’ thoughts on the correct answer.

Teachable moments

Coauthor Michele Kroll, a doctoral candidate in information science and learning technologies, says teachers who want to support cooperation among students need to consider other factors beyond giving them equal access to factual information and sources, including educating them about the impact group dynamics can have on identifying correct information online.

“Students might need further instruction and guidelines on how to evaluate online information, especially on social media,” Kroll says.

“Teachers might also consider creating guidelines for how groups will work together in these situations so that every student has the opportunity to be heard,” she says.

Source: University of Missouri