More than 60 per cent of fake news about healthcare issues read online is considered credible by the public, and trust in such claims increases if a story is seen multiple times, according to research.
The study, by Professor Giampiero Favato and Dr Andrea Marcellusi from Kingston University Business School, also revealed that web banners warning audiences about the potential inaccuracy of information were ineffective in limiting the circulation of fake news, with participants being just as likely to share content labelled as unverified.
The research recruited more than 1,900 people aged between 18 and 60 from a wide range of backgrounds. Participants were randomly assigned to two separate groups. They were shown social media style posts about six real and six fake news stories and were asked whether or not they would share them on Facebook. One group saw web banners warning about the credibility of the fake news posts, while the other did not. Later, participants were shown the same 12 stories again, along with 12 new ones, and asked to rate whether these were true or false.
Warnings about unverified information were shown to have no impact on study participants' behaviour in terms of believing or sharing information. Even when a story was recognised as fake, there was a 50 per cent probability that it would be shared.
"Media organisations publishing fake news stories have a responsibility to act. Facebook is planning to invest in teams of experts to look at the trustworthiness of the information being shared on its platform. If a story is not reliable, we recommend a publisher should have two choices - either delete the post or use the search algorithm to ensure scientifically inaccurate stories are relegated to appearing at the end of search results," said Professor Favato.