Researchers at Cambridge University have proposed a new way of combating people’s susceptibility to believing fake news. Described as a “vaccine”, the strategy aims to provide people with the tools to distinguish between genuine and fabricated news stories. Like a vaccination, the method pre-emptively exposes participants to small amounts of misinformation. The participants in the study were split into two groups. The first were shown factual information about climate change, followed by a fake news story. These people proved susceptible to the fake news. The second group were shown factual information, along with a warning that there were also fake news stories surrounding the issue. The study found that when these people were shown the fake news story, it had less of an impact.
There are of course several issues raised by this study. Firstly, who decides what is fake news? While it goes without saying that there are objectively wrong answers in life, many questions have inconclusive and subjective answers. This is often the case with scientific research. Many academics will hold different beliefs on certain issues, hence why there are different schools of thought in fields like psychology. Unlike a real vaccination, there is no clear disease being immunised against here. As such, this seems like more of a talking point rather than useful or applicable research.
Secondly, why is gullibility and a general lack of scepticism only being addressed now? There has been fake news for as long as there has been news. People have always believed things that turn out to be untrue. It would seem that this is only being raised as an issue now because it has become politicised. All the study does is warn the second group that there is misinformation in the world, and this apparently makes all the difference. Now I’m no scientist, but I’ve always referred to this phenomenon as common sense.
Fake news has recently been brought to the forefront of political discussion. It is no surprise then that people in academia are now taking an interest as well. Whatever your opinion about fake news is, I see no reason to take this study seriously. My advice is to always be sceptical, always seek further verification and make up your own mind based on all the evidence. This is nothing new and I didn’t need any psychological research to come to this conclusion.