‘Information’, ‘news’ – these are not mere words but are our ultimate source of reliance, to fulfill our appetite of social awareness. A piece of information is something, we expect to be accurate and reliable. Though, in today’s world of social media connectivity, spreading a piece of faux news is not a tough nut to crack. All of you will admit how tiring it is, encountering fake news every now and then. This problem won’t be solved unless we do something about it. Briony Swire- Thompson, a postdoctoral researcher at the Northeastern University is working to create tools for fighting the spread of such fake news. Her main focus is to decode, what persuades people to fall for false information and possible ways to present corrective information in an effective manner. According to Briony’s research, motivational reasoning and memory play a crucial role in persuading people to believe false news.
Motivational reasoning is the validity granted by people to a piece of information which supports their beliefs while discounting the ones that contradicts their beliefs. To dig deeper, she devised a study based on common beliefs that hold no emotional power for people; eliminating motivational reasoning from the study. She asked her subjects to rate some myths, on the basis of their confidence for it to be true. The subjects were then provided the corrective information from a reputable source and were asked again. To a surprise, most of them changed their answers but interestingly when these subjects were asked about the same, a week after, they jumped back to their original answers. The results were even poorer after a month. The study led her to the conclusion that the main problem with the corrective information is the difficulty faced in retaining it; dealing with the ideological biases is a cherry on the top. Also, she published a paper on the subject, “the impact of ideological basis” in 2017. All her hard work helped her to score felicitation by the prestigious Poynter Institute for Media Study as one of six academics nationwide who are “on the frontlines of fake news research.” Currently, she works in the lab of David Lazer, distinguished professor with joint appointments in the Department of Political Science and College of Computer and Information Science at the Northeastern University. Swire-Thompson has written book chapters and articles that distill the available research on how to maximise the impact of misinformation.
She concluded that one way to fight is to make healthy skepticism a fundamental element of the school curriculum. Also, we have to admit that, it’s going to take a lot of time to bring such a change.