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People believe misinformation due to poor online searches: Study

The study, led by researchers in the US, aimed to understand how the results produced when people used search engines to verify news articles impacted them

The act of searching online to evaluate news increases belief in highly popular misinformation, study finds.(Pixabay)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 25.12.2023  |  06:00 PM IST

With technology making it possible to access information in a click or two, there has been a rise in possible misinformation. Now, a new study shows that people who performed online searches to check the veracity of information ended up believing it because of poor quality results from search engines.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Central Florida, New York University (NYU) and Stanford University, aimed to understand how the results produced when people used search engines to verify news articles impacted them. 

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For this study, the researchers included news articles that had misleading or false information and verified news about a topic with significant coverage, such as covid-19. Some of the fake popular articles were on covid-19, the Trump impeachment proceedings and climate events, NYU’s press statement added.

The researchers found that when people performed online searches to verify the presented information, they were more likely to end up believing them when "poor quality results" were shown by search engines. 

They also found that time didn’t affect this. The study showed that this happened shortly after the article's publication and months later. Hence, this showed that opportunities to fact-check the news did not reduce the misinformation-believing impact of online searching, the statement adds.

The researchers performed five experiments to understand how online searches affected misinformation. The findings, published in the journal Nature, showed that online users who came across low-quality search results were more likely to believe misinformation.

This brings the focus on ‘data voids’ — areas of the information ecosystem that are dominated by low-quality, or even false, news and information — that may be playing a significant role in the online search process. This could be leading to a low output of credible information or, more generation of non-credible information at the top of search results, lead author Kevin Aslett said in the statement.

“Our study shows that the act of searching online to evaluate news increases belief in highly popular misinformation—and by notable amounts," study author Zeve Sanderson added in the statement.

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The researchers suggested that the findings highlight the need for media literacy programs to implement interventions and find solutions to the challenges highlighted by the study.

Also read: Can algorithms solve the fake news problem in India?