Fake news headlines on social media contribute to distrust among consumers, UT study says

Bethany Stork

False headlines and lies misconstruing factual news are contributing to an increasing distrust among media consumers through social media, according to a study co-authored by a McCombs School of Business professor.

The study, which was released last month, suggests consumers are more likely to believe fake headlines that align with their beliefs compared to truthful headlines. According to the study, 83 social media users were asked to read 50 political news headlines as they would appear on Facebook and decide whether they were true or false. The study found students identified 44% of headlines correctly.

Lead author Tricia Moravec — who is also an assistant professor of information, risk and operations management — said social media is not an “appropriate platform” for news consumption.

“Recognize that you are likely just as bad as everyone else at detecting fake news,” Moravec said in an email. “You and I are just as subject to influence from our confirmation bias as your family, friends and peers.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Joey Karlik said being skeptical is the first line of defense against fake news, but most people are not as skeptical as they need to be.

“Whenever you’re on social media, you’re never like ‘Oh, I want to be informed,’” Karlik said. “You want to be entertained. People create headlines that feed into that sensationalism, even if they’re not true.”

Karlik said he prefers getting news directly from a trusted news source, such as local news outlets, due to the presence of fake news on social media.

“You believe what you want to believe,” Karlik said. “It’s like going to Target and picking and choosing the stuff you want to buy and leaving the rest. That’s how our biases are made and social media news outlets know this”

Economics freshman Trevor Tankersley said political stories are often a victim of fake news because the political spectrum is polarized.

“People are always looking for reasons that reaffirm the things they already believe so they can justify why they can believe them,” Tankersley said. “That works with politics as well as any other belief.”

Moravec said participants in the study thought more about headlines that confirmed their beliefs.

“We need to verify any potentially important news that we see on social media on (an) actual news site, and preferably verify it from more than one source with different political biases,” Moravec said in an email.