Recent Updates

Critica co-founder Sara Gorman speaks about fake science and fake news at ONA Dublin

June 15, 2017

How do people come to believe news that isn’t true? What can journalists do to prevent the spread and uptake of patently false information? How can traditional media and social media outlets work together to improve the quality and accuracy of the information people consume online?

These were just a few of the “big” questions floating around the room on May 19 at Facebook headquarters in Dublin, Ireland at the Online News Association Conference (ONA). ONA is the world’s largest association of digital journalists.

Critica co-founder Sara Gorman joined a panel entitled “Audience Behavior and Discussion of News.” She was tasked with covering some of the highlights of the psychology behind why people believe things that aren’t true in just 10 minutes. The talk discusses some of the main contributing factors to false beliefs and presents some new ideas about how journalists can prevent and combat the uptake and spread of inaccurate information.

In particular, both in this talk and throughout the conference, there was great discussion of how to make complex concepts, context, and nuance more interesting for readers. Many journalists are now incentivized to write articles that will simply get the highest number of clicks and shares. As we all know, these faulty incentives often result in clickbait material and catchy headlines that can be extremely misleading. Especially in the fields of science and health, where research moves slowly and no individual study can really tell us that much, journalists struggle to make the stories interesting to an average reader browsing the internet, especially when they’re competing with headlines like “5 things that will kill you” or the like. As a result, journalists often fall into the understandable trap of making too much of a study, claiming that a single study is conclusive on a particular issue, even when it is not. When the findings of that study are inevitably contradicted by another study, readers become wary of science, thinking that it is somehow unreliable, when in reality what they are really witnessing is a natural progression of knowledge about a complex area that is not yet settled. Is there a way to temper our statements about study findings while still attracting reader interest? Can we make the broader context around a study and the complexity of the scientific topic more appealing to readers? These were some of the questions that this talk and others stimulated.

You can find the talk here. We hope you enjoy and look forward to hearing your thoughts.