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Yale Study: Facebook Tags Don’t Deter People From Believing Fake News

Raphael Satter
A photo shows stories from USA Daily News 24, a fake news site registered in Veles, Macedonia. An AP study found there are roughly 200 U.S.-oriented sites registered in Veles, which has emerged as a hub for the distribution of disinformation on Facebook.

Earlier this year, Facebook introduced tags that were supposed to warn users when a story could be fake news. But findings from a new Yale University study show that tags don’t do much to convince people.

The tag lets users know when a story has been disputed by fact-checking organizations like PolitiFact or Snopes. They’re a response to fake news stories, like those claiming Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS, which got more play on the site than real news stories during the election.

But the study shows most people just go right on believing the fake story anyway.

“Presumably, that means people are sort of not believing the fact checkers,” says David Rand, a co-author on the study. “Well, I mean, it’s not super-surprising in the face of the general lack of confidence in the impartiality and accuracy of media these days.”

He says the tags also seem to have an unwanted side effect – users start to think anything that doesn’t have a tag must be true. Even if, in reality, it’s just as fake as the stories with a tag. That’s especially true of Trump supporters and of young people.

“If you think that the taggers are biased, then if you see a story that seems sort of outlandish but it’s not tagged, then you would say, oh, even these biased fact checkers seem to think this one’s okay, so it must really be true.”

Rand says the study shows the flaw in Facebook’s strategy is, simply put, there’s too much fake news out there. They’ll never be able to tag it all.

As for what would help? Rand says he and his colleagues will start some research on that soon.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.
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