Our best bet for stopping fake news headlines

Tom Costello August 28, 2020
Our best bet for stopping fake news headlines

It turns out that we’re better at protecting ourselves from fake news headlines than we thought. Here’s how.

In the US, ‘fake news’ is practically the president’s catch phrase. Whenever a piece of media portrays him in a less than favourable light, Trump calls fake news – an effective tactic of non-engagement. This has created a dilemma regarding who to trust: the media or the president?

The most fertile terrain for fake news headlines seems to be social media, where users’ attention spans are famously short and the scroll bar ever ends. This all seems to play out in favour of fake news and makes the job of legitimate publications that much harder.

So, how can fake news headlines be stopped?

The best way would be through a combination of common sense and thorough research. But, that is often easier said than done, as some headlines can be very convincing.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

However, a new joint study by the University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University might prove the greatest asset yet in the fight against fake news and misinformation.

As part of this study, researchers placed 55 different test subjects in front of a screen and asked them to read 108 news headlines in order to work out which ones were the most recent. What they weren’t told is that a third of those headlines were fake news.

Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers analysed how much time each person spent reading the headlines.

A unique kind of study

This kind of study that has never been attempted before and the researchers managed to demonstrate that there is indeed a significant difference between the time spent reading a factual headline versus a fake one, even when the reader doesn’t realise which is which.

Participants naturally spent less time on the fake headlines than a true ones.

Image by memyselfaneye from Pixabay

The researchers involved with this study have used its results to create an algorithm that can predict whether or not a news headline is fake, based on the reader’s eye movements.

They hope that this eye-tracking technology could be applied in future to more efficiently detect fake news.

Conclusions

Casper Hansen, a PhD fellow and researcher on this study, concluded that ‘Professional fact-checkers in the media and organisations need to read through lots of material just to find out what needs to be fact-checked. A tool to help them prioritise material could be of great help’.

The biggest obstacle to this technology might be convincing people to agree to having the eye reading technology installed on their phones or laptops.

However, this seems to be our best bet at reliably detecting fake news so far. If successful, its impact could dramatically change the way news is disseminated across the internet and effectively combat misinformation.

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