Nearly half of teens can’t tell real medical messages from fake ones

(ORDO NEWS) — The study showed that young people aged 16-19 can be extremely difficult to distinguish between true medical messages on the Internet and false ones.

Only 48% of the participants in the experiment trusted real articles more than fake ones. The results highlight the need for better education of adolescents in how to interact with information on the Web.

Medical misinformation is a major public health problem. This has become especially noticeable during the coronavirus pandemic. Every year, fake health news spreads faster on social media.

Previous research has shown that health messages posted on the Internet are mostly incomplete and inaccurate, and sometimes contain potentially harmful information.

Such information may lead to incorrect treatment choices, risky behavior, or loss of trust in true professionals.

Most studies of people’s reactions to information on the Internet have focused on adults. Now scientists have decided to find out if teenagers are ready to cope with the huge volumes of fake medical news.

Since teenagers are active users of the Internet, the scientists assumed that they knew well how to evaluate the reliability of information.

Previous experiments have identified five main factors that determine how a message is perceived (as true or false): adjective superlatives, clickbait, grammatical errors, authoritative opinion, and bold type.

Based on this, scientists developed an experiment in which 300 students aged 16 to 19 took part.

They were asked to read seven short messages about the health effects of various fruits and vegetables.

Among them were true, neutral and false reports, as well as truthful articles that combined various factors that affect perception.

It turned out that 41% of teenagers could not distinguish real medical content from fake. What’s more, poor editing of health posts did not inspire distrust.

At the same time, teenagers paid attention to the structural features of the site, such as font and appearance.

In addition, they had great confidence in reputable organizations, trusted brands, or articles written in business language.

Only 48% of participants trusted true and neutral messages more than fake ones. At the same time, 41% of participants believed that all messages were equally trustworthy, while 11%, on the contrary, preferred false information.

The adolescents did not appear to make decisions about the credibility of a source based on previously identified factors. Only clickbait headlines lowered their credibility.

The results of the study highlight the need for better education of adolescents in determining the quality of information.

The authors of the work propose to focus on teaching the younger generation the basics of medicine and hygiene, as well as on developing their critical thinking.


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