Fake news became a global phenomenon with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit referendum, particularly because more and more people are using social media as a source of news without reflection. The spread of fake news on the Internet and its consequences are being intensively discussed in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, so far, there is no clear agreement on how to reduce the influence of fake news.
„The problem with fake news is that even if it is flawlessly identified as such, something still „sticks“ – the fake news continues to influence our opinion", explains Prof. Johannes Siebert, who researches and teaches at MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®. This phenomenon is called „belief perseverance bias“ and explains the great influence of fake news on the formation of opinion and the decision-making behavior of many people. „There are numerous newsrooms and nonprofit organizations that identify fake news. This very elaborate work helps reduce the influence of fake news. However, these fact checks can only be a first step,“ adds Dr. Jana Siebert from the Palacky University Olomouc in the Czech Republic.
The two researchers have been working on the methodological reduction of the belief perseverance bias in the context of fake news in the project „PerFake“ funded by the European Union and the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The aim of the PerFake project was to contribute to reducing the negative influence of fake news. Prof. Johannes Siebert and Dr. Jana Siebert developed two methods to reduce the belief perseverance bias and tested and optimized them in two experiments with numerous participants. The experiments consisted of three main steps. Participants were (1) confronted with fake news, (2) informed that it was fake news, and (3) confronted with methods to reduce the bias. At each step, participants’ opinion was measured to determine the bias and analyze the effectiveness of the methods to reduce that bias.
Both tested debiasing methods showed promising results in reducing the belief perseverance bias. The debiasing method „counter-speech“ focuses on refuting the fake news by clear counter-arguments. The debiasing method „awareness training“ generally informs the participants about the existence of the belief perseverance bias and how the bias works. Such awareness training could help increase society’s resilience to fake news. Prof. Johannes Siebert explains how this can work in practice: „Let us assume you have received a piece of information, for example, you have heard a speech by a politician or read a post on social media. A fact check shows that it is fake news. Being aware of the belief perseverance bias should then help you realize that your original opinion may still be negatively influenced by the fake news and subsequently correct this bias.“ Dr. Jana Siebert adds: „It would, therefore, be desirable to educate the public about the belief perseverance bias and the way it works. For example, fact-checking organizations could complement their fact checks with a note informing about the belief perseverance bias. Such a note could significantly increase the effectiveness of fact-checking and society’s resilience to fake news.“
FH-Prof. PD Dr. habil. Johannes Siebert
MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®
Reducing the influence of fake news, © Pixabay