Daily Management Review

False Memories Can Be Created By Fake News On Social Media, Shows A Study


False Memories Can Be Created By Fake News On Social Media, Shows A Study
The risks of "fake news" spreading via social media have been highlighted in a recent study into false memories. 
The study comprised of showing volunteers fake and fabricated news reports that appeared on social media a week before the abortion law referendum in Ireland in 2018. The study results revealed that claims of having had earlier memories of at least one of the cooked up events detailed were expressed by almost half of the total respondents. There were also many respondents who, even after being informed that the articles were false, did not reconsider the false recollections that they had made. 
The study also found that if the fake reports had presented wrong information about that side of the debate that they had opposed, it was more likely that the 3,140 participants to have created false memories.
This study is in line with previous such work on the same phenomenon. However the researchers of the study claimed that this is the first time that such as study has been done where the issue was examined against a real-world referendum which was being held at the time of the study.
According to one of authors of the study, this study showed the difficulty in “undoing” spurious memories farer after such memories had been developed by individuals in their minds.
"Memory is a reconstructive process and we are vulnerable to suggestion distorting our recollections, without our conscious awareness," Dr Gillian Murphy, of University College Cork, said. "The implications for any upcoming elections are that voters are vulnerable to not just believing a fake news story but falsely recalling that the [made-up] event truly happened."
Earlier, red warning flags used to be displayed by Facebook beside all those news stories that had been identified to be false by third-party websites. However the company later scrapped the strategy because it felt that such identification could further reinforce deeply held beliefs instead of such users questioning the authenticity of such news articles. As an alternative strategy, Facebook and other social media companies are now trying to limit the spreading o false and malicious news and posts, offer a wider context to users and clamp down on accounts that are run by state-backed propagandists.
Despite these efforts, more needs to be done, believes a UK-based fact-checking charity.
"These findings are concerning and link to previous studies showing how once something is in our memory, it is harder to correct it," said Amy Sippitt, research manager at Full Fact. "That's why it's important to tackle the causes of bad information to prevent it from arising in the first place."
Academics and researchers have for long known the existence of the dangers of fake news leading to false memories. For example, the results of a study conducted in 2012 showed how easily people can be led to misremember a shaking of hands between the former US President Barack Obama and Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though no publicly available record of any such event or occurrence ever existed. The same study also showed that it was possible for people to falsely remember how another former president of the US President George W Bush entertaining a baseball player at his Texas ranch at the time of New Orleans being hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The president had been at the White House on the date that the fake stories showed.
"It shows why we need to understand how individual stories can be used to portray a wider narrative," said Sippitt. "It's therefore important not to deal with the accuracy of claims in isolation but also to look at the bigger picture these depict."