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Why do Americans Share so Much Fake News? One Big Reason is They Aren’t Paying Attention, New Research Suggests

By Denise Marie-Ordway, writing for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School…

Many Americans share fake news on social media because they’re simply not paying attention to whether the content is accurate — not necessarily because they can’t tell real from made-up news, a new study in Nature suggests.

Lack of attention was the driving factor behind 51.2% of misinformation sharing among social media users who participated in an experiment conducted by a group of researchers from MIT, the University of Regina in Canada, University of Exeter Business School in the United Kingdom and Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico. The results of a second, related experiment indicate a simple intervention — prompting social media users to think about news accuracy before posting and interacting with content — might help limit the spread of online misinformation.

“It seems that the social media context may distract people from accuracy,” study coauthor Gordon Pennycook, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Regina, told The Journalist’s Resource in an email interview. “People are often capable of distinguishing between true and false news content, but fail to even consider whether content is accurate before they share it on social media.”

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