Fake news may set your blood boiling and threaten the very future of democratic debate, but the best thing you can do is keeping scrolling say a University of Westminster professor.
“It might seem counterintuitive,” said Tom Buchanan, “But the best way to react to fake news – and reduce its impact – may be to do nothing at all.”
Buchanan, a professor of psychology, conducted a research project into the fake news phenomenon in social media through funding from the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats.
He said one of the most striking revelations from his research was that people were more likely to share material that they had seen before, bypassing their fake news radars and potentially aiding purveyors of fake news.
This, said Buchanan, is consistent with earlier research that demonstrated people were more likely to start believing false news if they see it repeatedly and to feel less ethically constrained from spreading news that they know is untrue.
“The simple fact is that engaging with false information increases the likelihood that other people will see it.
“If people comment on it, or quote tweet – even to disagree – it means that the material will be shared to our own networks of social media friends and followers.”
Any interaction with fake news, even reporting it or registering anger or disagreement will trigger greater sharing of the post by the host platform which is mostly concerned with increasing engagement on the site and less interested in probing the veracity of the post.
“Even by arguing with a message,” said Buchanan, “You are spreading it further.
“This matters, because if more people see it, or see it more often, it will have an even greater effect.”
Fake news is of great harm to the journalistic profession. It promotes dangerous conspiracy theories, alienating believers from normal society, encouraging unhealthy practices and, at times, inciting violence.
Those that remain impervious to the phenomenon should have a personal plan in place to enact whenever they encounter even the slightest form of misinformation, and perhaps for the more blatant lies doing nothing may be the best thing to do.