Many teenagers fail to identify the credibility of false or biased news online, a new research article finds. Using an online survey with a test, Thomas Nygren and Mona Guath of Uppsala University seeked to find out how teenagers in Sweden determine the credibility of digital news.
They investigated people’s civic online reasoning, meaning “the ability to effectively search for, evaluate, and verify social and political information online”. 483 participants evaluated the credibility of different sources, uses of evidence and how they confirm whether presented information is true or not.
88 % of the students could not separate news from native advertisements in Aftonbladet, Sweden’s most-read newspaper. Most did identify manipulated images as poor evidence. Less than half of the participants identified a text (with source information removed) from Swedish public radio as more credible when asked to corroborate this text with a right-wing populist text from Fria Tider.
Credibility ratings on three articles, of which one was credible, one false news and one reader’s comment were relatively high and did not differ much.
What predicts the ability to identify credible information?
Those who value the importance of credible news seemed to be better at determining the credibility. These students seemed to have a mindset of scientific curiosity and an openness to consider biases.
On the contrary, teenagers who reported being good at searching information online and who find online info trustworthy were not very good at finding out whether the news were credible. Nygren and Guath write that this may be due to overconfidence: lack of knowledge resulting in too much confidence in one’s ability.
The researchers state that self-reported surveys regarding media and information skills do not provide a better understanding of people’s actual abilities. Teaching and learning source critical evaluation is crucial for a constructive treatment of digital news, they conclude.
The article ”Swedish teenagers’ difficulties and abilities to determine digital news credibility“ was published in Nordicom Review and is freely available online (open access).
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