August 1, 2017, by Stuart Moran

Fake News Research Study Outcomes and Reflection

The Digital Research Team have helped facilitate a collaboration between researchers in Computer Science and Sociology. This is a guest blog post written by Dr Helen Creswick.

The research team created a fake Facebook profile, populating it with various news posts (fake and otherwise), and recruited participants to take part in an activity where they were tasked with finding the fake news.  During this activity, all participants had their eye movements tracked and their audio recorded.  Those that took part were also asked to ‘think aloud’ whilst completing the exercise.  The purpose of the activity was to establish the initial judgements that social media users make when verifying information what they see online.  How are judgements formed? What information do participants consider when forming these judgements?  How might the fast paced nature of news consumption through social media impact on any initial judgements that are made?

A total of nine participants took part, producing some key insights.  The combination of eye tracking data along with the participant audio established that the ways in which they processed the information that they viewed on social media was nuanced.  The judgements formed appeared to be largely based on different combination of internal and external factors.  Internal factors refer to the values that each participant may hold in relation to a news source or topic, whereas external factors concerned the ways that the information was presented on social media, such as the layout of the text, the journalistic style and tone, or the existence of clickbait, for example.  The process of verifying information appeared to be a concern for some, but not for all.  Some outlined their approach to verification, which involved delving into the information to complete a series of checks on the URL, source, date of publication and the journalist.  Others appeared less concerned with undertaking any sort of verification, and relied more on their own judgement as to whether the headline appeared plausible.  Some were also governed far more by their own personal interest or sense of relevance to their own lives, as to whether they explored the information further or not.

I worked as a Research Assistant on the project.  Whilst my background is in Sociology, I have enjoyed working on an inter-disciplinary project, where I have discovered new methods of undertaking data collection and acquired new skills, for example in using eye tracking technology.  The project has also enabled me to learn about new ways of looking at the topic of ‘fake news’ from a different, digitally focused, perspective. Overall, the insightful conversations with colleagues has facilitated an interesting and diverse project, and yielded in depth data on a topical area.

If you are interested in exploring the ways in which digital technologies can enhance your research, please get in touch with the Digital Research Team.


Next blog in series: Fake news, digital sociology and computerphile

Previous blog in series: Use of Affordable Eye Tracking in News Verification Strategies

Stuart Moran, Digital Research Specialist for Social Sciences


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