New social button to find today’s truth

Women sharing on social media. | Newsreel
A more information button on social media posts could stop the spread of misinformation. | Photo: Violeta Stoimenova (iStock)

A new social media interface promises to help users avoid spreading misinformation online.

In an age where information is shared with the click of a button, when that information is based on outdated science, misinformation can flourish.

A University of Sydney team hopes to help social media users identify posts featuring misinformation and disinformation arising from now-debunked science.

Professor Judy Kay from the University’s School of Computer Science said they had developed and tested a new interface that helped users discover further information about potentially fraught claims on social media.

The team, led by Professor Kay, created and tested the efficacy of adding a “more information” button to social media posts.

“The button links to a drop down which allows users to see more details about claims or information in news posts, including information on whether that news is based on retracted science,” Professor Kay said.

She said social media platforms could use an algorithm to link posts to details of retracted science.

“Testing of the interface among a group of participants showed that when people understand the idea of retraction and can easily find when health news is based on a claim from retracted research, it can help reduce the impact and spread of misinformation as they are less likely to share it,” Professor Kay said.

“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, myths around the efficacy and safety of vaccines abounded. We want to help people to better understand when science has been debunked or challenged so they can make informed decisions about their health,” she said.

“The ability to read and properly interpret often complex scientific papers is a very niche skill – not everybody has that literacy or is up to date on the latest science. Many people would have seen posts about now-debunked vaccine research and thought: ‘it was published in a medical journal, so it must be true’. Sadly, that isn’t the case for retracted publications.”

Co-author and PhD student Waheeb Yaqub said social media platforms could do much better than they do now.

“Our approach shows that when people understand the idea of retraction and can find when health news is based on a retracted science article, it can reduce the impact and spread of misinformation,” Mr Yaqub said.

The study was published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction.