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Study: Public Susceptible to COVID-19 Misinformation

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Thursday, March 26, 2020   

LINCOLN, Neb. -- As Nebraskans look for the latest factual information in the COVID-19 crisis, a new study shows that it's getting harder to tell what's real -- and what isn't -- on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.


Researchers at the University of Washington used a Google Chrome extension to add fake news posts to trusted friends' news feeds.

Report co-author Christine Geeng says a surprising number of people in the study couldn't spot the lies.

"While they said they're very good at being skeptical and spotting fake news, we found out some of them did end up falling for some of the misinformation, which really goes to show that anyone can be susceptible for misinformation, because it's just so hard to spot," she states.

Geeng says one way to avoid getting duped is to investigate the source, because many posts from "trusted" second cousins or old high school friends don't originate from credible news sources.

For the latest on COVID-19 developments, Nebraskans can also turn to the state's Department of Health and Human Services online at dhhs.ne.gov.

Previous research on how people interact with misinformation asked respondents to review posts from a researcher-created account, not from friends and others they're already following.

Geeng says she's hopeful that these new findings will help news consumers and programmers alike in an age when information comes at super-fast speeds, in short and digestible formats.

"I'm hoping that by doing this research, we can figure out ways to potentially better design social media sites, or at least design things that can help people make better decisions about whether the stuff they're reading is true or not," she states.

Geeng adds that people in the study did notice when a post didn't match their friends' usual content -- and while some became skeptical and investigated further, many just ignored it.

Geeng says in future research, she's interested in exploring whether social media users remember something about content they scroll past, but forget that it was from an ad they skipped over.


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