Everyone is trying to crack down on fake news, but there’s still little understanding of why such preposterous information spreads so easily. One recent study may have revealed a very important piece of the puzzle, however: People trust their friends too much.
Photo by Steven Pisano.
The new study, from American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, suggests people believe news content more when it comes from friends they trust, regardless of its source. For example, if someone sees an article shared by their best bud Joe from an unknown, unvetted media source, they’re more likely to trust the article’s information than if they saw the same article from a reputable media source shared by someone they don’t know as well. That’s right, this study proposes that the sharer is more important than the outlet when it comes to news.
This could happen for a few reasons. For starters, we want to trust our friends (friends meaning actual friends, not random acquaintances you added on Facebook). In your mind, these are the folks that have met your personal standards and been deemed worthy of your time and attention. They’re the family you choose. You think, “Joe’s not an idiot. I don’t associate myself with idiots. This must be legit.” And that leads into the next issue. Were you to admit they’re ignorant and guilty of spreading fake news, you’d also be admitting that you’ve chosen your inner-circle poorly. We like to think of ourselves as good judges of character, so we block such notions from our mind. It’s much easier to just trust ourselves, and thus, trust our fiends. Then, either by word of mouth or by clicking that share button, the inaccurate information moves on to the next batch of friends who want to trust you.
Social networks and third-party tools are doing their best to combat this cycle by flagging questionable posts, or warning posters when links are from an unreliable source. But even with those measures in place, it’s important you stay on your toes so you can avoid being part of the problem. Don’t take this the wrong way — it’s OK to trust your friends. You should. But it’s also OK to question the things your friends share on your social network feed. Don’t let your gut reaction be what determines if you click that share button or not.