A recent study by Stanford University, which looked into 7,804 students from middle school through college, revealed that 82% of middle schoolers couldn't recognize the difference between an ad labeled "sponsored content" and a real news story on a website, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source, noted the Journal. Since the end of the presidential election and Donald Trump's surprise victory for the White House, social media sites such as Facebook, Inc. (FB) and Twitter, Inc. (TWTR) have been blamed for enabling the proliferation of fake news. (See also: Facebook's Fake News Created by Its Own Premise.)
Almost half of Americans get their news from Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. At a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, President Obama addressed the issue, saying, "Active misinformation is packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television." Social media has grown its influence against traditional media outlets such as CNN. (See also: Google Aims to Block Fake News.)
The Stanford study, which is considered the most in-depth assessment of how teens evaluate information they find online, is now even more important. The study revealed that more than two out of three middle schoolers found no reason to be skeptical of a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help, said the Journal. This is even though "the need more financial-planning help" would serve the interest of the bank executive.
In a post last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the steps his company is taking to curb fake news. Stronger detection, easy reporting and third-party verification are some of the initiatives Facebook is working on. While Zuckerberg assured that his company understands how important the issue is, Stanford's study just placed a bigger, more important microscope on the matter. (See also: Mark Zuckerberg Outlines Steps to Fight Fake News.)