Study Finds Americans Have Trouble Spotting Fake News: A Metaliterate Reaction

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

CNN and other news sources recently reported on a study of over 8000 Americans who were surveyed about their ability to discern fake news via “headlines presented in the format of how news articles would look if they appeared in a Facebook feed. They were also asked to rate their ability to determine whether stories were true.”

Trudi was asked to comment on the article by a member of her University’s Office of Communications and Marketing. That piece was published on June 2 in a shortened form. Here are her original comments with brief CNN quotes setting the stage:

From the CNN article: “In all, these results paint a worrying picture: The individuals who are least equipped to identify false news content are also the least aware of their own limitations and, therefore, more susceptible to believing it and spreading it further…”

Trudi: It can be eye-opening to realize your powers of discernment may not be what you think they are, regardless of your level of education, profession, or political leanings. I recommend that everyone take the Common Misconceptions test offered by the organization Clearer Thinking. While it focuses on common misconceptions rather than headlines, there is enough similarity to assess, as they put it, “How well can you tell reality from B.S.” Not only will you find out if your understanding of the 30 items they ask about is on target, but, more importantly, “this test will analyze your answer patterns and provide a custom report that tells you how often you should trust your gut and when it’s better to be suspicious of your intuitions.” I was speaking from personal experience when I said it was eye-opening!

From the CNN article: “If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly be more likely to consume, believe and share it, especially if it conforms to their worldview. Recognizing that one’s judgments on the truthfulness of headlines or content aren’t infallible will, hopefully, keep down the negligent sharing of false information.”

Trudi: There are other things that you can do besides take the Common Misconceptions test and triangulating news from sources with different perspectives. I recommend becoming familiar with the Metaliteracy Framework, which emphasizes the importance of becoming a responsible citizen and ethical consumer, sharer, and creator of information, both individually and collaboratively. The Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative has developed a number of free online tools, from short videos on YouTube to fun quests to more extensive Coursera MOOCs (massive open online courses), all of which provide a great introduction to the learning domains, roles, and characteristics of metaliterate learners—people who know to be skeptical about information until it is assessed. This list of resources was originally offered in the form of a blog post, but is now the first item under the Metaliteracy in Practice tab. Kudos to Kelsey O’Brien for the design of the resource list.

A second approach, related to metaliteracy, is to shift one’s thinking away from cognitive biases and towards open inquiry and curiosity. There are a number of new initiatives, such as the Open Mind non-profit which offers tools that “equip people with the mindset and skillset to communicate constructively across differences.” 

You can listen to Trudi’s interview on this and related topics for WAMC, the local National Public Radio station.

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