Nieman Foundation at Harvard
What journalists and independent creators can learn from each other
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 20, 2020, 1:59 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   February 20, 2020

There are many studies on misinformation and ways to combat it, but they’re often focused on traditional reporters and editors. In four new reports published today, Full Fact, an independent fact-checking charity in the United Kingdom, partnered with Africa Check (which fact checks in several countries on the continent) and Argentina’s Chequeado analyzed academic research and fact-checking experiments in the three regions, and recommends how members of the public sector (politicians, health officials, educators, etc.) can contribute to correcting and limiting the spread of bad information.

“From well-trodden conspiracies on climate science, to creative but downright dangerous “beauty hacks” circulating on social media, tackling bad information can be daunting,” the release said. One of our colleagues put it best in his book: a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on. We know the consequences: bad information ruins lives.”

But first, some of the relevant findings for journalists include:

  • Photos and videos can be engaging, but the best way to inform a reader is through a jargon-free written story. A study of story structure with 210 participants found the most information retained was from stories written with the inverted pyramid structure. Story formatting is also influential, so stick to short paragraphs where you can.
  • While it’s true that older adults and adults without college education find it more difficult to separate fact from opinion, “We all find it harder to remember the source of stories we encounter on social media. We tend to believe rumours which are repeated, easy to process, and those which align with our existing worldviews. Above all, we all have a part to play in the quality of public debate.”
  • Fact-checking has had a positive influence on both politicians and journalists, and qualitative studies show that doing so has caused politicians and news organizations to correct themselves and to not repeat false information.

Intervention programs across different age demographics in three countries (Uganda, Argentina, and the U.K.) also yielded positive results. Some examples:

In Uganda, the organization Informed Health Choices designed educational programs for both children and adults in order to help them make better decisions about healthcare. The children learned about critical thinking tactics with a comic book formatted textbook, posters, a song, and a workbook. The adults were required to listen to a podcast and given a summary checklist.

Tests administered at the end of the experiment suggested that, overall, the intervention had been successful in raising awareness of health misinformation. Presented with a series of multiple choice questions designed to replicate real life health choices, 69% of the students in the intervention group passed, by getting at least half the answer right, compared to only 27% in the control condition. Similar results emerged from testing parents’ learning. A total of 71% of adults who listened to the tailored podcast passed the multiple choice test, compared to 38% in the control group.

In Argentina, Chequeado recruited more than 3,000 of its adult readers to participate in a 15-minute online program that would participants how to spot fact-checkable claims. First participants were given 16 statements and had to rate if they could be checked. After each answer they were told why their answer was correct or incorrect. Then, using a fake political speech, participants were asked rate which of the statements could be fact-checked.

The training had a small but statistically significant effect on participants’ ability to identify if statements contained checkable facts. Overall, controlling for the effects of gender, age, profession and political affiliation, participants in the experimental condition scored 4% higher than those in the control condition…Online interventions are worth considering. The fact that the training proposed was fairly simple and only took 15 minutes of readers’ time is particularly interesting. Adults may not necessarily need the structure of classroom environments. As this study indicates, education may also come in small doses of online training, which can be integrated in their everyday media consumption practices.

In the U.K., the National Literacy Trust simulated a newsroom for children ages 9 to 11. After working with 2,400 students from 500 schools, the results show that teaching media literacy through simulation can be a viable option:

As many as 70% of students reported thinking about the importance of fact checking after the workshop, compared to 52% before. Similarly, the workshops appeared to increase confidence in students’ ability to assess the quality of news. A third of students (33%) reported finding it difficult to tell if a news story was trustworthy after the workshop, compared to almost half (49%) before.

Simulation techniques can also work on adults. The organization also developed a 15-minute game that required players to assume “the role of a fake news reporter” so that they could learn about misinformation tactics and later apply that knowledge in the real world.

Applied to a large but self-selecting sample of 14,000 participants, the study found that the game made a significant contribution to players’ ability to spot inaccurate news. Tested before and after, with questions that asked them to rate the reliability of tweets and headlines, participants were significantly better at identifying unreliable information after playing. Notably, the authors observed the highest effects for participants who were also most likely to be vulnerable to false news in the first phase.

Find the full briefings in English here and in Spanish here.

Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What journalists and independent creators can learn from each other
“The question is not about the topics but how you approach the topics.”
Deepfake detection improves when using algorithms that are more aware of demographic diversity
“Our research addresses deepfake detection algorithms’ fairness, rather than just attempting to balance the data. It offers a new approach to algorithm design that considers demographic fairness as a core aspect.”
What it takes to run a metro newspaper in the digital era, according to four top editors
“People will pay you to make their lives easier, even when it comes to telling them which burrito to eat.”