- Research by Stanford University on kids and young adults ranging from middle school to college age found that students are not very discerning when it comes to online news sources, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
- Among middle-schoolers, 82% couldn’t tell the difference between content labeled as “sponsored content” and editorial news, and more than two thirds couldn’t provide a reason to invalidate content written by a bank executive outlining why young adults need more financial planning help.
- Other results include students tended to judge the credibility of tweets based on the inclusion of large images or detail rather than the source of the tweet, and 40% of high schoolers believed that a photo of deformed daisies provided strong evidence of toxic conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan based on the photo’s headline even though there was no sourcing on where the photo was actually taken.
Younger demographics are consuming more media online and as they get older, these habits are likely to stick. Research such as Stanford's points to some of the ramifications of this trend, namely that there is growth in sponsored content online in response to the need for less intrusive marketing engagements.
The problem with this approach, as the Stanford research suggests, is that if the content is not adequately flagged, younger consumers are not differentiating between marketing content and news. This has disturbing implications as the volume of fake news grows, with these consumers unable to make a distinction here either.
Fake news has always been part of the online experience, making Snopes, which attempts to uncover misinformation online, a popular destination to check out the latest bit of “news” shared via email or social media, but this election cycle put the issue into high relief with Facebook taking heat that a large amount of content shared on the platform was fake.
Even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied the volume of fake news was that high, he still has made a number of public statements addressing the issue. Post-election Google and Facebook, stopped serving ads via their respective ad platforms on sites that clearly feature fake news.