Understanding and Reducing the Spread of Misinformation Online


Understanding and reducing the spread of misinformation online
Authors: Gordon Pennycook, Ziv Epstein, Mohsen Mosleh, Antonio Arechar, Dean Eckles, David Rand
Created on November 13, 2019

Supplemental Materials: https://osf.io/p6u8k/

Accuracy prompts decrease sharing of false and misleading news content
Contributors: Gordon Pennycook, David Rand
Date created: 2019-08-29 12:07 AM

Twitter thread by David Rand:

🚨Working paper alert!🚨 "Understanding and reducing the spread of misinformation online"

We introduce a behavioral intervention (accuracy salience) & show in surveys+field exp w >5k Twitter users that it increases quality of news sharinghttps://t.co/GYpg7jGtNk

1/ pic.twitter.com/VilwqQkbxD

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We first ask why people share misinformation. It is because they simply can't assess the accuracy of information?

Probably not!

When asked about accuracy, MTurkers rate true headlines much higher than false. But when asked if theyd share online, veracity has little impact
2/ pic.twitter.com/OIJ04h2Fxb

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

So why this disconnect between accuracy judgments and sharing intentions? Is it that we are in a "post-truth world" and people no longer *care* much about accuracy?

Probably not!

Those same Turkers overwhelmingly say that its important to only share accurate information.
3/ pic.twitter.com/W1UA6VGSBd

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We propose the answer is *distraction*: this accuracy motive is overshadowed in social media context by other motives, e.g. attracting/pleasing followers or signaling group membership. This contrasts w post-truth account where people are aware of (non)veracity but share anyway

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We test these views by making concept of accuracy top-of-mind. If people already recognize whether content is accurate but just don’t care much, accuracy salience should have no effect. But if problem is distraction, then accuracy salience should make people more discerning.

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

In 3 preregistered exps (total N=2775) w MTurkers & ~representative sample, we have subjects in Treatment rate the accuracy of 1 nonpolitical headline at the study's outset. As predicted, this reduces sharing intentions for false (but not true) headlines relative to control.
6/ pic.twitter.com/6xefDGr2ea

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

Finally, we test our intervention "in the wild" on Twitter. We build up a follower-base of users who retweet Breitbart or Infowars. We then send each user a DM asking them to judge the accuracy of a nonpolitical headline (w DM date randomly assigned to allow causal inference)
7/ pic.twitter.com/xNYMJD9rB9

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We quantify quality of their tweets using fact-checker trust ratings of 60 news sites. At baseline, our users share links to quite low-trustworthiness sites – mostly Brietbart, DailyCaller plus Fox. We then compare link quality pre-treatment vs the 24 hrs after receiving DM
8/ pic.twitter.com/z8SQCtmgIm

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We find a significant increase in the quality of news posted after receiving the accuracy-salience DM: 1.4% increase in avg quality, 3.5% increase in summed quality, 2x increase in discernment. Users shift from DailyCaller/Breitbart to NYTimes!
9/ pic.twitter.com/52fAceFUPu

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

We hope these studies will lead to more work in behavioral science on social media sharing & that our Twitter method to more field exps.

We also hope platforms will take note, as our intervention is easily implementable. Could lead to less misinfo w/o centralized censorship!

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

I'm extremely excited about this project, which was led by @GordPennycook @_ziv_e @MohsenMosleh , with further invaluable input from coauthors @AaArechar @deaneckles

Please let us know what you think: comments, critiques, suggestions etc. Thanks!!

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 17, 2019

Because of the nature of our experimental design, we weren't really powered to test for long-term effects. My guess is that it probably didn't last that long – but its a treatment that the platforms could deliver regularly (e.g. with pop-ups in the newsfeed) pic.twitter.com/mxFaPHeeRi

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 19, 2019

Totally agree! And philanthropists could buy ads delivering the treatment to misinfo sharers

— David G. Rand (@DG_Rand) November 19, 2019

For RT:

I added @DG_Rand's "Understanding and reducing the spread of misinformation online" thread to my collection of tweets: https://t.co/AAG4adFONQ pic.twitter.com/huEcy7aCqb

— Götz Kluge (@Bonnetmaker) January 12, 2020

Trump Used Right Wing Terrorism to Promote breitbart.com

When the President tweets a link to a anti-Muslim Conspiracy Theory website (@BreitbartNews) instead of offering his condolences for the 49 Muslims killed in the New Zealand Christchurch Mosque terrorist attack, you no longer should call him "President."#NewZealandShooting

— Ed Krassenstein (@EdKrassen) March 15, 2019

I'm just trying to imagine an acceptable scenario where the President of the United States is briefed on the horror unfolding in New Zealand and he goes to twitter to post a link to the Breitbart homepage.

— Schooley (@Rschooley) March 15, 2019

Maybe he was trying to link to a story about the attack and screwed it up. But from this news source? Or he's completely in a Mueller fugue state and didn't look at the news that doesn't involve him. Either way, I miss sanity. pic.twitter.com/P4UvuwRFMa

— Schooley (@Rschooley) March 15, 2019

And that's still his most recent tweet. Does no one in the White House communications office have the ability to post some sort of acceptable sympathetic reaction? The lack of even pretend leadership is stunning. pic.twitter.com/PDLmklEQ8w

— Schooley (@Rschooley) March 15, 2019

I know we have no expectations of basic decency and competency these days, but in a functional government you might expect not just an expression of sympathy to the victims, but assurances to American Muslims that every possible security measure will be taken here.

— Schooley (@Rschooley) March 15, 2019

So given the Breitbart tweet was deleted at some point this morning, can we assume hearing about the attack he went there for his news [spin] on it and accidentally tweeted a link?

— Schooley (@Rschooley) March 15, 2019

Not a measured statement, not official condolences, not a link to a page on reputable news site, not even a page on a *disreputable* news site. Just a link to a dodgy, culpable conspiracy site main page. Like a crazy uncle who just discovered the internet sending a rando email

— Elizabeth Tamny (@etamny) March 15, 2019

Because he has no empathy

— # trump is all 7 deadly sins (@thiafails) March 15, 2019



The link to the Breitbart page with its news on the rightist terror attack in NZ later was replaced by this tweet:

My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019

John Bolton #NewZealandShooting: "We're obviously greatly disturbed by this, what seems to be a terror attack, this hate crime in New Zealand. We've been in touch with our embassy overnight."

President Trump condemns "horrible massacre" in New Zealand: https://t.co/R4FWLl57qQ pic.twitter.com/GBpOczBJjK

— The Hill (@thehill) March 15, 2019

The Hill didn’t mention Trump’s first tweet which later was removed. That tweet just contained a link to Breitbart.

Trumps first response to that right wing terrorism was to tweet (1106390965038788608 from 2019-03-14) a link to the right wing Breitbart site. That tweet showed Trump's character too well and was replaced by https://t.co/6cfdnVp2Lf pic.twitter.com/cGfzH5WsfF

— Goetz Kluge (@Bonnetmaker) March 15, 2019

If muslims are killed, this kind of president doesn't waste any words for condolences.

cc: @washingtonpost @NewYorker @SpeakerPelosi @senatemajldr @SenJohnThune @SenSchumer @DickDurbin

— Goetz Kluge (@Bonnetmaker) March 15, 2019


Trump in 2016:

During the South Carolina primary in 2016, Trump enthusiastically told a (fictional) story about the mass murder of 49 Muslims. pic.twitter.com/9xssH0MZVI

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) March 15, 2019

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