Social media is not only used to like and share family photos. It’s also utilized as a hub to exchange information. As we continue to consume news via social media, one question constantly lingers: Is the information real?
“Fake news is one of the most serious problems right now. Thanks to social media, anybody can make up anything and pretend it's real news,” shares Min-Seok Pang, associate professor of management information systems and Milton F. Stauffer Research Fellow at the Fox School.
Not only does fake news cause concern for those who believe it, but it also makes it more difficult for those trying to share accurate information.
“Fake news makes it hard for us to identify what's real and what's fake. Many experts are losing their authority when sharing something credible and authoritative,” Pang explains. “People on social media want to believe whatever they want, which is increasingly dangerous for society because it undermines our trust in each other.”
Pang and his co-authors sought to understand how people engage with, consume and report fake news. As outlined in their study, “Seeing Is Believing? How Including a Video in Fake News Influences User Reporting of Fake News to Social Media Platforms,” the content we see on social media is not always accurate—and our emotions influence what we believe.
To understand how users engage with fake news, the researchers utilized the Chinese social media platform Weibo, similar to Twitter. They analyzed over 100,000 social media posts of over 10,000 unique fake news stories. The posts included videos or images and varied in topics and sentiment. There was always one common thread: they included fake or inaccurate captions.
Platforms have difficulties monitoring the spread of fake posts, so they rely on users to report what they deem as having inaccurate details. Pang elaborates on this tactic.
“Social media combats fake news by using the wisdom of the crowd. It's difficult for social media platforms to use their own resources or technology to police misinformation, so they use our help. They utilize users’ input and reports to detect and fight fake news.”
Pang and his co-authors found that the media attached to fake news posts, particularly videos, affects how often users report the post. While both images and videos increased the number of users reporting fake news, videos were reported more often as they received more engagement. Sentiment of the posts also played a role in user reporting.
“If there is a fake news video that evokes sentiments like anger or happiness, users are more likely to buy it as real news,” explains Pang. “We found that negative emotion works better in tricking users than positive emotions.”
As Instagram and TikTok persist in encouraging users to create more video content, findings from the study suggest that platforms should be conscious of the continuous growth of video on social media. More videos could trigger an even greater proliferation of fake news.
The study garnered imperative information for various members of society to acknowledge. So what can social media users—whether in the C-suite, in a social media manager role or an active scroller—do to better protect themselves and others from sharing false information?
1. Social media platforms should utilize research to fight against the spread of fake news efficiently. This study, for example, shows that executives and managers should focus their internal resources and technology on posts containing merely text and images rather than posts that include video, as users are more likely to assist in reporting this type of content.
2. Leaders should be cautious about what they read, share and post. They have a responsibility to users, specifically their followers, to provide accurate information.
3. Watch videos entirely before making judgments. “Don't be swayed by the emotions,” says Pang. “[Social media users] should not believe everything they read or see, no matter how cool or sophisticated the video. All of us need to be better-informed consumers. We should not let down our guard when consuming any information.”
4. Take action and report fake news! By not stopping the spread of false information, we could be doing more harm than good.
“We need to be responsible,” Pang emphasizes. “We need to report. Whenever we see something that is not true, that is obviously fake, it's our responsibility as a member of society to report that to platforms like Facebook and Instagram because that will help us all.”
This article originally ran in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research publication. To check out the full issue of On The Verge: Business With Purpose, click here.