‘Understanding and Combating Fake News’: David G. Rand discusses the problem with fake news

David G. Rand speaking on fake news at the “Understanding and Combating Fake News” presentation on Nov. 3 in Oak Hall.  (Qilong Yun/The Daily Campus)

David G. Rand speaking on fake news at the “Understanding and Combating Fake News” presentation on Nov. 3 in Oak Hall.  (Qilong Yun/The Daily Campus)

David G. Rand, associate professor of psychology, economics and management at Yale University gave a presentation entitled “Understanding and Combating Fake News” on Nov. 3 in Oak Hall. The presentation covered why people believe fake news and what can be done to combat it.

Fake news, as Rand describes it, is “fabricated new stories presented as if from legitimate sources.” It is not news you don’t agree with nor pieces written with heavy bias. This made-up media exists because, according to Rand, “it’s vastly easier to produce fake news than fact-check it.”

The distribution of fake news is often seen on platforms like Facebook, which is where Rand focused his research. If you’ve been on Facebook recently, it’s not uncommon to have blatantly fake news articles pop up in your feed. Some of the headlines are almost comically untrue, but others are harder to distinguish, and this is where the problem lies.

Rand explained that many people, especially young people, have trouble discerning fake news from credible news. And, as the presentation went on to stress, not much is being done to stop this problem. The main issue is that fake news needs to be stopped before it is published, because the more someone sees these fake articles, the more likely they are to believe them.

But some platforms are trying to change things. Facebook attempted to combat the fake news problem by implementing a system that tags potentially fake articles with warnings. The problem with this, Rand explained, is that not every fake article is tagged, and this creates an “implied truth effect” that causes people to believe that any story without the warning is true. This change has actually increased the number of fake articles that are shared.

Rand stated that the major problem with fake news is that “many people [are] not considering accuracy when sharing” and that it was “more of a consequence of inattention than willful ignorance.” His solution is to remind people to think about the potential accuracy of an article before sharing it. In experiments where users were prompted to do this, the number of fake news articles they shared decreased dramatically.

The idea is based off of analytical thinking, which is the ability to think scientifically and make judgments. The better a person is at analytical thinking, Rand explained, the better they are at discerning fake news articles from real ones. And the good thing about analytical thinking is that people can be taught how to do it, which means people can be taught how to better tell if an article is fake.

This is where Rand’s idea of having people rate an article on accuracy comes in - it prompts the person to think analytically. Simply reminding someone once primes them to continue to look analytically at future articles, making them less likely to share fake news.

“I thought the talk was really interesting and relevant,” said computer science graduate student, Sarah Peck. “You cannot force people to think critically, so finding a way to promote that thinking is really interesting.”

With so much fake news on the internet today, it’s always important to check the source and the accuracy of the information before you believe it or share it online. It’s especially important for our generation, as not only do we consume most of our media online, but we’re the age group most likely to believe fake news.


Courtney Gavitt is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.