The younger generation — especially those who spend a long time online — are more likely to believe fake news than boomers, according to a study published in Behaviour Research Methods. The results can be found YouGov US website.
Psychologists from the University of Cambridge, UK, developed the first validated “misinformation susceptibility test .”This is a two-minute test to indicate how likely a person is to believe fake news online. The validate this quiz, the researchers conducted a series of experiments with over 8,000 participants over two years.
To test it in real conditions, UK polling organisation YouGov created a survey to determine how susceptible Americans are to fake news. The survey found that, on average, adult US citizens correctly identified about 2/3 of the news they were shown as either real or fake.
However, the survey found that younger adults are actually worse than older adults at identifying fake news, and this gets worse for those who spend a lot of time online recreationally. It turns out older and less digitally-savvy “boomers” are less likely to be duped by fake news than Gen Z and millennials.
“Misinformation is one of the biggest challenges facing democracies in the digital age,” said Prof Sander van der Linden, senior author of the study and head of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. “We are seeing how online falsehoods create polarised belief systems in major nations, and the consequences, such as the attempted Capitol Hill insurrection.”
To create this survey, the team included the right level and mix of fake and genuine headlines to produce the most reliable results. Examples of real news came from reliable news outlets such as Reuters. The fake news were created using artificial intelligence, ChatGPT version 2.
“When we needed a set of convincing but false headlines, we turned to GPT technology. The AI-generated thousands of fake headlines in a matter of seconds. As researchers dedicated to fighting misinformation, it was eye-opening and alarming,” said Dr Rakoen Maertens, lead author.
Over 1,500 adult US citizens completed the survey in April 2023 and also responded to questions about demographics, politics, and online behaviour. Only 11% of 18-29 year-olds obtained a high score, while 36% of over-65s performed well in the survey. Curiously, the longer participants spent online for fun, the greater their likelihood of believing fake news.
The survey also analysed where participants received their news. Most people who got their news from reliable sources, such as the Associated Press or NPR, achieved high scores. In contrast, those who got news from social media sites, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, or TikTok, received low scores.
Worryingly, half of all Americans say they see misinformation online every day, according to the YouGov poll. “Younger people increasingly turn to social media to find out about the world, but these channels are awash with misinformation. Approaches to media literacy, as well as algorithms and platform design, require an urgent rethink,” said Dr Maertens. “We want to explore why some people are more resilient to misinformation and what we can learn from them.”
You can also try this survey at https://yourmist.streamlit.app/. You’ll be asked to rate 20 headlines as true or false to give you a “resilience” ranking compared to the wider US population. It takes less than two minutes to complete.
Maertens, R., Götz, F.M., Golino, H.F. et al. The Misinformation Susceptibility Test (MIST): A psychometrically validated measure of news veracity discernment. Behav Res (2023). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-023-02124-2