Gen Z, millennials more prone to fake news than older adults – Report

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A recent survey carried out by the University of Cambridge has shown that Gen Z and Millennials are more susceptible to fake news than older generations despite spending more time online than older adults.

The FactCheckHub has published a quick tutorial on how to identify fake news online. If you are a Gen Z or millennial, you might want to learn how here.

The report, by UK’s Cambridge University, stated that the survey carried out using Chat GPT technology was a two-minute quiz developed by psychologists in the University which is the first validated “misinformation susceptibility test” (MIST).

The quick two-minute quiz gives proof of how vulnerable a person is to being duped by the kind of fabricated news that is spread online.

The test, proven to work through a series of experiments involving over 8,000 participants and taking place over two years, has been deployed by a  polling organization YouGov to determine how susceptible Americans are to fake headlines.

The first survey used the new 20-point test, called ‘MIST’ by researchers and developed using an early version of ChatGPT, which has found that – on average – adult US citizens correctly classified two-thirds (65 per cent) of headlines they were shown as either real or fake.

According to the report, the polling found that younger adults are worse than older adults at identifying false headlines and that the more time someone spent online for entertainment, the less likely they were to be able to tell real news from misinformation.

The senior author of the MIST study, and head of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, Professor Sander van der Linden stated in the report that misinformation is one of the biggest challenges posed to democracies in the digital age.

“We are seeing how online falsehoods create polarized belief systems in major nations. To understand where and how best to fight misinformation, we need a unified way of measuring susceptibility to fake news. That is what our test provides,” said van der Linden.

The Cambridge team developed assessment tools that enabled them to work out the right level and mix of fake and genuine headlines to produce reliable results.

To create false but confusingly credible headlines – similar to misinformation encountered “in the wild” – in an unbiased way, researchers used artificial intelligence: ChatGPT version 2.

“When we needed a set of convincing but false headlines, we turned to GPT technology. The AI-generated thousands of fake headlines in a matter of seconds. As researchers dedicated to fighting misinformation, it was eye-opening and alarming,” said Dr. Rakoen Maertens, MIST lead author.

An international committee of misinformation experts reduced the true and false headline selections for the MIST after which adaptations of the survey were then tested extensively in experiments involving thousands of UK and US participants.

The latest YouGov survey which was taken in April saw 1,516 adult US citizens take the MIST and also respond to questions covering demographics, politics, and online behaviour.

11 per cent of 18-29-year-olds got a high score (over 16 headlines correct), while 36% got a low score (10 headlines or under correct). By contrast, 36% of those 65 or older got a high score, while just 9% of older adults got a low score.

Additionally, the  report stated the longer someone spent online for pleasure each day, the greater their susceptibility to misinformation, according to the MIST.

30 per cent of individuals who spend less than 2 hours for recreation online each day got a high score, compared to just 15% of those spending 9 or more hours online.

The survey also analyzed channels through which respondents receive their news. The “legacy media” came out top. For example, over 50 per cent of those who got their news from the Associated Press, or NPR, or newer outlets such as Axios, achieved high scores.

Social media had the news audiences most susceptible to misinformation. Some 53 per cent of those who got news from Snapchat received low scores, with just 4 per cent getting high scores. Truth Social was a close second, followed by WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram.

Dr Maertens added: “Younger people increasingly turn to social media to find out about the world, but these channels are awash with misinformation. Approaches to media literacy, as well as algorithms and platform design, require an urgent rethink.”

“The MIST will allow us to verify the effectiveness of interventions to tackle fake news. We want to explore why some people are more resilient to misinformation, and what we can learn from them,” he concluded.

Fact-checker at The FactheckHub | [email protected] | + posts

Seasoned fact-checker and researcher Fatimah Quadri has written numerous fact-checks, explainers, and media literacy pieces for The FactCheckHub in an effort to combat information disorder. She can be reached at sunmibola_q on X or [email protected].

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