A mockup of an over-the-top news headline that reads "ALIENS!". In front of it is a reminder: "If shocking claims in a headline sound unbelievable, then they probably are."

List tips for checking accuracy of shared headlines

Reduces spread of mis- and disinformation

Our confidence rating

Convincing

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What It Is

A simple list of tips that can be followed to check the accuracy of headlines on social media

(e.g., Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.).

When To Use It

This should appear either during the sharing of news articles, or as an intermittent reminder, or public-service-type announcement, from the platform itself to the user to bear the accuracy of headlines in mind.

What Is Its Intended Impact

People exposed to the tips were significantly more skeptical of false news stories.

It's noted in testing that users also became slightly more skeptical of legitimate news stories, but not nearly to the same degree.

How We Know It Works

Consistent with a prior hypothesis that media literacy interventions might reduce belief in false news stories, researchers from MIT in both the United States and in India exposed random participants to a media literacy intervention. In the study, participants were presented with reminders for how to gauge the accuracy of a news source.

Results from the first wave of the US study show a decrease of nearly 0.2 points on a 4-point scale, with a higher score denoting a stronger belief that the article is factual. Similar effects of the media literacy intervention are observed on the perceived accuracy of hyperpartisan headlines. The decrease in score suggests that participants, when prompted to think about accuracy in more actionable ways, were more critical of sharing articles in their newsfeed.

Why It Matters

With the understanding that poor digital media literacy strongly correlates to belief in hoaxes and misinformation, finding a way to dispel falsehoods is critical to bringing users to a shared plane of understanding from which to cooperate. The authors of this study concluded that their findings were "largely encouraging" and that they suggest that, "relatively short, scalable interventions could be effective in fighting misinformation" globally.

Few people are prepared to effectively navigate the online information environment. This global deficit in digital media literacy has been identified as a critical factor explaining widespread belief in online misinformation, leading to changes in education policy and the design of technology plat-forms. However, little rigorous evidence exists documenting the relationship between digital media literacy and people’s ability to distinguish between low- and high-quality news online. This large-scale study evaluates the effectiveness of a real world digital media literacy intervention in both the United States and India. Our largely encouraging results indicate that relatively short, scalable interventions could be effective in fighting misinformation around the world.
Andrew M. Guess, Michael Lerner, Benjamin Lyons, & al.

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