NATIONWIDE — Social media allows us to have the latest news at our fingertips, as well as to connect with friends and strangers around the world instantly.

But it’s also given rise to the constant bombardment of fake and misleading news online. 

What You Need To Know

  • UCF professor says people tend to have trouble identifying "fake news"

  • Fake story 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real story, MIT study says

  • Dr. Chrysalis Wright says the issue may affect the 2020 election

  • More Decision 2020 headlines

“With COVID, I can’t really go out and see people,” University of Central Florida senior Alexandra Oropallo said. “And since I’m a college student, a lot of my friends go to different colleges out of state, so I use it to keep in touch with all of them.”

Just as funny memes and posts exist side by side with news articles on your feed, so too does fake news. A lot of it can look very real — even for psychology students, like Oropallo, who study it.

“I feel like on some level, we’re all kind of susceptible to that,” she said. “I mean, I definitely do get a lot of my news or links to news from mainly Twitter because it’s an easy way to get from someone’s post to the actual news article.”

UCF professor Dr. Chrysalis Wright said we’re “bombarded” with fake news almost every day.

Many people think of "fake news" as stories they don't like, biased reporting, or even misinformation. But what defines fake news for Wright are those completely fabricated articles, websites, and social media posts, often created by foreign entities with the goal of riling people up, making them mad or emotional, and dividing our society. 

In her studies with students through the media and migration lab at UCF, Wright said fake news isn't just widespread, it has the ability to impact and shape our views on hot-button issues like racism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and immigration. 

Fake news is everywhere, and its campaign to divide us is working, Wright said.

“The problem is pervasive, it’s widespread," Wright said. "And it’s impacting, not just our potential 2020 election outcome, but other areas of our society. It impacts how we think about other people.”

Studies show fake news is far more likely to be shared and engaged with on social media than real news. One Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found a fake story is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than a true story.

How to Identify Fake News



Fake News Disclaimers Often Don't Help, UCF Professor says

And those "fake" or "misleading" disclaimers you’ll now see on platforms like Twitter aren’t helping, Wright said, because the people sharing or engaging with these posts do not believe what they're reading isn't true.

Those most inclined to believing fake news, Wright’s studies have shown, tend to be older and conservative with their minds made up on certain issues. But her research has found young people are also susceptible.

“The research in my lab has also been able to show that our college students, our emerging adults, they have a difficult time in identifying fake news when they see it,” Wright said.

Because of the constant presence of fake news online, Wright said this will impact our election, but it's not clear by how much.

“While it was in the middle of affecting our 2016 election, we were not aware of it until after the fact,” she said. “So how it’s impacting our current election, we may not be aware of until after the fact.”

After studying fake news closely with Wright at UCF for months, Oropallo said she feels more comfortable in identifying fake news in her own social feeds. She still worries about its impact on the election, though — both locally and nationally.

If the election is a close election, Wright said it could be fake news that tilts the scales in one direction. 

“We should be very concerned,” she said.

Fake News and Its Impact on the Election