Junk Information Catches More Engagement Than Authentic News On Facebook - Study Shows

Unfortunately, we now live in an era where misinformation reaches to you faster than the true facts. If we look into the depth of why it is happening then a lot of credit for this goes to social media platforms, which are now being used as a tool to circulate fake news and reports. The impact becomes even more strong with sharing and re-sharing of the ever-increasing lies.

If you were to think about it, you would probably trust your own intelligence and might even ignore this but the reality is that you simply can’t get away with the danger of such sharing. To highlight the importance of this issue, a new research conducted by Oxford University can serve as an essential guide about why should you be really concerned about the false news.

The report starts off with analysis of Facebook data which shows that ‘junk news’ (or content coming in from non-credible and inauthentic sources) is getting shared four times more than the trusted news.

For a better understanding of what junk news really is, the report suggests any “misleading, deceptive, or incorrect information purporting to be real news about [topics such as] politics, economics, or culture.”

As it gives rise to propaganda and conspiracies, some people also then argue with the belief that such news are more true than blatant lies that mainstream outlets publish.

So, to overcome this confusion, the research team at Oxford decided to categorize the news as junk if it met three of the five criteria:

Counterfeit - They exist to mimic established news reporting with the help of fonts, branding, and styles in content strategies. You’ll often see them posting commentary and junk content as proper news. The headlines will have date, time, and location stamps along with the names of agencies and credible sources.

Professionalism - Such outlets shy away from following standards and best practices of professional journalism. They post information without revealing anything about the real authors, editors, publishers or owners.

Bias - Whatever comes our from such sources is highly biased, ideologically skewed and includes commentary with strong opinions.

Style - These sources tend to focus more on emotionally driven language that majorly includes emotive expressions, misleading headlines, unsafe generalizations, lots of pictures and mobilizing memes.

Credibility - False information and conspiracy theories is the bread and butter of their business and they also become masters at employing it strategically. They don’t follow any rule of fact-check before reporting and therefore their production also struggles with reliability.

Even despite knowing the base of such news, there will always be people out there who would prefer to trust such sources more than the traditional outlets, which itself explains the fact that why is it so effective on platforms like Facebook. It goes well in accordance with the internal bias of the audience and reinforces view points that people would actually like. This together contributes a great deal in boosting engagement (i.e, likes, comments and shares).

This behavior is best explained by psychologist and author Sia Mohajer who said “humans look for evidence that support their beliefs and opinions about the world [we are obsessed with our comfort zones or some may call it filter bubble]. We don’t like anything that runs contrary to our own preference.”

The situation, overall, is more prominent on Facebook. Users have access to more alternative, agreeable information sources and in fact, news algorithms work right in line with what users agree with. Eventually, this leads to people liking the content without verifying it and then sharing it with like-minded friends and peers. You even get the chance to mute someone or shut them up if their posts are entirely opposite to your opinions and by doing so, Facebook successfully works like a tool to amplify such content.

While this is also yielding great results and profits for company (considering how their ad dollars really depend on the consumer behavior), can someone really challenge the perception building process? Will Facebook really leave their dominance to reduce the impact of false news?

For now this seems like a very difficult question to answer. We all are seeing a new information economy building up on the social media and some extreme strict actions would be required to fight against the embolden beliefs. However, the only solution as of yet is to diversify what you choose to believe in.

Read next: Is Social Media Putting Us All In An Echo Chamber? (infographic)

Featured illustration: Krista Kennell / Stone / Catwalker / Shutterstock / The Atlantic
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