Anything that persuades news consumers to pause before sharing is a good start and helps keep misinformation from polluting our information ecosystem. The UN calls this technique #PledgetoPause, a campaign to combat the spread of viral falsehoods. Does Elon Musk wish he had paused before tweeting the link to an article filled with baseless conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi? He deleted the post after a furious backlash and apologized three months later after police released bodycam footage of the assault.
Author Andrew Sullivan may have had regrets when he shared the bogus article from West Cook News, claiming a suburban Chicago school would start giving students different grades depending on their race.
He later deleted the post, but how many of his 250K followers had already seen it and believed what they read?
As Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post, “There’s a question we need to ask these days before sharing one of these scintillating stories with friends and followers: Is it true?” Taking on this challenge one post at a time may feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll back down each time. But experts on digital literacy say it is absolutely worth the effort.
In the midst of a flood of misinformation during the 2020 presidential election, Twitter announced it was trying out a new feature, encouraging users to read an article before retweeting it. “It’s easy for links [and] articles to go viral on Twitter,” said Twitter’s Kayvon Beykpour. “This can be powerful but sometimes dangerous, especially if people haven’t read the content they’re spreading.”
A few months later, the platform posted results of the feature, showing the prompt led to people opening articles 40 percent more often and possibly choosing not to retweet after all.
In 2021, perhaps after seeing Twitter’s results, Facebook followed suit.
Older people have proven to be more likely to forward false information with users over age 65 sharing nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as younger age groups.
But research shows reminding people to think about accuracy does make a difference in what they choose to share. A study published in the journal Nature found most people do not wish to share inaccurate information. In fact, over 80 percent of respondents felt that it’s “very important to only share accurate content online.”
Researchers concluded that for most of us, when we fail to distinguish between true and false content, it’s not because of partisan motivation but because of lazy thinking. “People fall for fake news when they rely on their intuitions and emotions, and therefore don’t think enough about what they are reading—a problem that is likely exacerbated on social media,” according to the authors.
Media literacy expert Mike Caulfield says when strong emotion pushes us to share a “fact” with others, that is the time to stop and fact-check, a process that can take less than a minute. In his guide, “Web literacy for Student Fact-Checkers,” Caulfield says, “Every time content you want to share makes you feel rage, laughter, ridicule or even a heartwarming buzz, spend 30 seconds fact-checking. It will do you well.”
So break out your fact-checking skills like lateral reading and the Wikipedia trick— and #PledgetoPause.