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

2020: Fight Normalizing Trumpism

Tim Wise, 2019-07-21

1/ If the Dems blow this election it will not be because they were “too far left on policy” or because they “weren’t left enough.” It will have little to do with policy at all. They are making a mistake caused by traditional consultant theory that does not apply here…

2/ And by listening to influential pundits in liberal media who also don’t get the unique nature of Trumpism, relative to normal political movements & campaigns…this election is NOT going to be won by talking about all your “great plans” for health care, jobs, education, etc..

3/ And the reasons are several…Let me begin by saying that I have experience confronting the kind of phenomenon we see in Trumpism, and far more than most. Any of us who were involved in the fight against David Duke in LA in 90/91 know what this is and how it must be fought…

=== History ===
4/ So before explaining what the Dems are doing wrong right now, a little history…In 1990, white supremacist David Duke ran for U.S. Senate in LA, and in 1991 for Governor. He lost both times but both times he won the majority of the white vote (60 and 55% respectively)…

5/ I was one of the staffers of the main anti-Duke PAC at the time & ultimately became Assistant Director. In 90, even though our Director Lance Hill, myself & a few of our founders wanted to focus on Duke’s bigotry, ties to extremists and appeals to white racial resentment…

6/ …after all, that WAS the issue–it was a moral struggle against racism–we had mainstream Democratic consultants who warned us against focusing too much on it. They said that “played into Duke’s hands” and allowed him to set the agenda….

7/ So sure, we could discuss his ties to Nazis & such, but we shouldn’t make a big deal out of his contemporary racist appeals, per se, bc “lots of voters agree” with those appeals… they even encouraged us to talk about utterly superfluous shit like Duke paying his taxes late..

8/ Or Duke avoiding service in Vietnam, or Duke writing a sex manual under a female pseudonym (yeah he did that)… although Lance held firm that we needed to talk mostly about racism, we did end up talking about some of that other stuff too, sadly…

9/ I say “sadly” because doing that normalized Duke as a regular candidate. Attacking his generic character or bill paying habits (or even discussing his inadequate plans for job creation, etc) treated him like a normal candidate. But he was/is a NAZI…

10/ And none of his voters were voting 4 him bc of jobs, or tax policy or support for term limits, etc. And none were going to turn on him over late tax payments, Vietnam, etc. Indeed throwing that stuff out there & downplaying the elephant in the room (racism) seemed desperate..

11/ It allowed people to say “well if he’s really this racist, white supremacist, why are they talking about all this other stuff?” It actually undermined our ability to paint him as the extremist he was/is. And as a result, the threat he posed was not clear enough to voters

12/ And this didn’t just allow him to get votes he might not have gotten otherwise; it also depressed turnout among people who almost certainly disliked him but didn’t think he could win or would be all that big a deal if he did. In fact I recall convos with “liberals”…

13/ …who said they weren’t going 2 vote bc after all Duke’s Dem opponent was just a shill for the oil and gas industry, and that was just as bad, blah blah fucking blah…because some lefties can’t tell the difference between corporatist assholes and actual literal Nazis…

14/ But we bore some responsibility for that because we got suckered into playing this conventional game and “not playing into his narrative.” Anyway, Duke gets 60% of the vote, black and white liberal turnout is lower than it should have been and Duke gets 44% of vote…

15/ In the Governor’s race we dispensed w/ all that bullshit. We talked about Duke’s ongoing Nazism and the moral/practical evil of his racist appeals. We discussed how that moral evil would have real world consequences (driving tourists and business away, rightly so, from LA)..

16/ Because it was wrong, and it was not who we wanted to be, and it was not who were were. We were better than that and needed to show the rest of the country that…

17/ Now, did this flip any of Duke’s 1990 voters? Nah, not really. Indeed he got 65k MORE votes in the Governor’s race than the Senate race. But it was never about flipping them. We knew that would be almost impossible…

18/ To flip Duke voters would require that they accept the fact that they had previously voted for a monster, and people are loath to do that. Our goal was not to flip them, but to DRIVE UP TURNOUT among the good folks, many of whom stayed home in 1990

19/ And that is what happened. The concerted effort of the anti-Duke forces (not just us), challenging Duke’s “politics of prejudice,” and making the election about what kind of state we wanted to be, drove turnout through the roof

20/ 28,000+ registered on one day alone, between the initial election and runoff (which Duke made bc of the state’s open primary system), with tens of thousands more overall: most of them, anti-Duke folks…

21/ When it was over, Duke had gotten 65k more votes than in 90, but his white share went to 55 (from 60) and overall to 39 (from 44) because the anti-Duke turnout swamped him…So what does this have to do with 2020 and Trump? Do I really need to explain it?…

=== 2020 ===
22/ First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered

23/ Duke retained 94% of the folks he got the first time out (and got new people too), as Trump likely will. So forget these people–or at least don’t wast time tailoring messages to them. And policy plans for affordable college don’t mean shit to them, nor health care…

24/ Their support for Trump was never about policy. It was about the bigotry, the fact that he hates who they hate…Second, as for the “undecideds.” …Not many of these but seriously? If you’re still undecided at this point about this guy…

25/ Then there is almost no way to know what would get you to make up your mind…I doubt it’s a plan to deal with Wall Street though, or infrastructure, or tax policy…

26/ If anything, I would say crafting an argument that this is an existential crisis for the nation–and making it about Trump’s bigotry and who we want to be as a country, would be far more effective in inspiring them to make up their minds…

27/ And what I know for a FACT is that this message — that Trumpism is a threat to everything we care about and love about this country — is what will inspire the Dem base to vote…and THAT is what this election is about

28/ I’m not saying the Dems don’t need policy ideas, but focusing on wonky, look-how-much-I’ve-thought about-this stuff is not going to move the needle in 2020

29/ What the left never understands is: we need to stop approaching elections like the goddamned debate team, and start approaching it like the right does, like the cheerleading squad

30/ The right knows psychology and we know public policy and sociology…great. The latter does not win elections

31/ People who say the Dems should ignore Trump’s race baiting because its some genius political strategy calculated to distract us, are idiots. He is no genius. And if you downplay it you NORMALIZE him. If you make this about policy, you NORMALIZE him. He is a racist

32/ He is a white nationalist. He is an authoritarian. He and his cult are a threat to the future of the nation and world because of their hatreds. His movement betrays the country’s promise. THAT is the message that will drive turnout. Not debates over marginal tax rates…

33/ Or how we are going to fund schools…And anyone who says we should ignore the race baiting to talk more about Mueller and Russia is an even bigger fool…that’s like talking about Duke and late tax payments or other corruptions…it might all be true but is not the point

34/ Not to say the House shouldn’t impeach over that stuff. They should. But the 2020 candidates must craft a message that is not about that. Trumpism is the threat to America, more than Putin. And Putin didn’t birth Trumpism. Conservative White America did…

(Emphasis not by author)

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