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Historians Easily Fooled

VU International News and Reviews No. 101 November 20 2017

November 2017

In a paper on Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information, published on SSRN (an open-access online repository of pre-prints papers dedicated to Social Sciences), two scholars from Stanford report on their analysis of how people determine the credibility of digital information, and how people recognise misinformation, fake news, and rank propaganda masquerading as dispassionate analysis.

With a sample 10 PhD historians, 10 professional fact-checkers, and 25 Stanford University undergraduates, they found that historians and students tend to stay within a website to evaluate its reliability and often fall victim to easily manipulated features of websites, such as official-looking logos and domain names.

By contract, the fact-checkers laterally, leaving a site after a quick scan and opening up new browser tabs in order to judge the credibility of the original site. Compared to the other groups, fact-checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time.

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