Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

The fact-checking trap

Labeling some false stories can make people likelier to think other ones are true. Fortunately, there’s a fix.
April 15, 2020

After the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook began putting warning tags on news stories fact-checkers judged to be false. But a new study coauthored by Sloan professor David Rand finds there’s a catch: this makes readers more willing to believe and share other stories that are also false.

“Putting a warning on some content is going to make you think, to some extent, that all of the other content without the warning might have been checked and verified,” says Rand. Fortunately, that problem can be addressed by also labeling stories found to be true.

In the study, 6,739 US residents were given a variety of true and false headlines and asked if they’d share each story on social media. Those in the control group had no stories labeled; others saw a “FALSE” label on some false stories; a third group saw warnings on some false stories and “TRUE” labels on some true ones.

Participants considered sharing just 16.1% of labeled false stories, compared with 29.8% in the control group. But they were also willing to share 36.2% of the unlabeled false stories, up from 29.8%. Those who saw both warning and verification labels shared only 13.7% of the headlines labeled false, and just 26.9% of the nonlabeled false ones. These findings held true regardless of whether the discredited items were “concordant” with participants’ stated politics.

Rand advises labeling both true and false stories. Then, he says, “if you see a story without a label, you know it simply hasn’t been checked.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Professor Gang Chen of MIT
Professor Gang Chen of MIT

All charges against China Initiative defendant Gang Chen have been dismissed

MIT professor Gang Chen was one of the most prominent scientists charged under the China Initiative, a Justice Department effort meant to counter economic espionage and national security threats.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.