An emotional political campaign story or local coverage of climate issues. Some Facebook news articles can inspire you to go straight to making a comment. Reading the post? Um, is that really necessary? For many who get their news from social media, the answer is, “No.” And while we’re all adults and no one can make us read the news like there’s going to be a test or something, this tendency to comment without ever reading is fueling overconfidence. In short, people don’t want to feel like they learned from Facebook news, they just want to feel like they’re right. And they’re not, according to recent research that found Facebook news feed skimmers thought they knew more than they did. In a completely ironic request, you’re invited to read to the end here to find out how the study could tell people hadn’t read before commenting:
The Short Story On Facebook Political News Feeds
It’s oft-proven and sort of obvious that people who are exposed to more news are better informed. But most people relying on those truisms are considering “news” to be arriving via long-form newspaper articles or in-depth television shows. These days, that’s not the way most people get their political info fix. Instead, a full 67 percent get their news from social media. And while Facebook might be packed with in-depth coverage for the people who click enough times, the average person who logs on for news clicks just 7 percent of the news stories available in the personalized feed. Social media also makes people tap into incidental political news that their friends have liked or commented on. After all, it’s right there in the feed alongside pictures of delicious brunches and college athletics taunts that they may have come to Facebook for.
In a research article titled “A little bit of knowledge: Facebook’s News Feed and self-perceptions of knowledge,” three political science researchers at York College of Pennsylvania gauged how the nature of the Facebook feed influences political information gathering. In the study, published in Research and Politics, they hypothesized that social media with its quick-hit, fast-paced barrage of news was only creating an illusion that followers had actually learned something. The study also examined whether the bit-by-bit, highlights-only nature of the news feed made the Facebook audience into know-it-alls, confident they had a handle on political issues when they didn’t.
To find out whether any learning occurred with Facebook previews, the researchers formed three groups from 1,000 participants. The first group received a full news article from The Washington Post about genetically modified foods. The second accessed a Facebook news feed that included a preview of that article. A third group got no information whatsoever. Then the researchers measured how much each subject actually learned about GM foods with six factual questions. All of the correct answers were available in the full copy of the article, while just three were part of the Facebook preview.
Skimming Facebook Previews Inspires Overconfidence
It wasn’t all that surprising that the people who read the full article were most likely to get higher scores on the quiz. The Facebook preview group, though, got only one more question right on average than the people who had no input at all about GM foods. Even more telling, when the researchers asked people how they thought they did on the quiz, the perception-reality disconnect was far more pronounced for the Facebook feed folks.
The researchers concluded that people who glanced through news feed previews were much more likely to think they knew more political information than they did. And those who had indicated a cognitive style guided mostly by emotion at the beginning of the study were even more likely to think they’d done well on the factual quiz when they hadn’t. Such folks care more about getting to feel like they’re right than knowing they have accurate information, according to the researchers. Can we get a “like” for that finding?