Although social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have taken heat for spreading misinformation, it turns out that we -- all of us -- may be our own worst enemies in the battle against the scourge of fake news.
A new study found that people given accurate statistics on controversial topics tend to misremember those numbers in order to fit their own commonly held beliefs.
In the study, when people were shown that the number of Mexican immigrants in the United States declined recently -- which is true but has gone against most people's beliefs -- they tended to recall the opposite.
For example, most people believed that the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. grew between 2007 and 2014. But, in fact, the number declined from 12.8 million in 2007 to 11.7 million in 2014.
People could then pass along this misinformation, pushing the numbers further away from the truth.
“People can self-generate their own misinformation. It doesn’t all come from external sources,” Jason Coronel, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University, said in a statement.
Coronel conducted the study with two doctoral students from the university and it was published online in the journal Human Communication Research.
They said they conducted two separate experiments to measure how users responded regarding societal issues that involved numerical information.
“We need to realize that internal sources of misinformation can possibly be as significant as or more significant than external sources,” Shannon Poulsen, a doctoral student at The Ohio State University, said.
“We live with our biases all day, but we only come into contact with false information occasionally.”