What helps fake news spread?

Date: 28th May 2021
Category: General Comments


Over half of 12-15-year-olds report that they have seen a false news story. This new case study looks at design features which increase the spread of misinformation and ‘fake news’, which can negatively impact children and young people’s rights and wellbeing.

Fake news can impact the trust children and young people have with the world around them, which can be a deterrent of civic engagement and can implicate their health and wellbeing. For example, a study showed one in five 16-24- year-olds think there is no hard evidence COVID-19 exists. 
Some of the design features which promote misinformation include:

  • Popularity metrics - When someone well-known, such as a celebrity, ‘likes’ misinformation, this can appear more credible.
  • Recommendation systems - Algorithmically recommended content can create a cycle of similar posts to read, videos to watch or groups to join.
  • Autoplay - Video or audio content plays without initiation from the user when autoplay is enabled. This content is informed by recommendation algorithms and can become increasingly narrow in focus or extreme in nature.
  • Trending lists - These lists can give instant access to disinformation when popular hashtags are misappropriated to promote false content.
  • Fake accounts - These include automated accounts or ‘bots’ and fake profiles. Bots can spread misinformation at scale by manipulating online discussion and generating fake engagement such as comments and likes.
  • Ineffective content labelling - Content labels are designed to warn of inaccurate content and redirect users to credible sources of information. Labels that are subtle or text-based can be easily missed or misunderstood.
  • Disappearing content - Content that expires after a certain amount of time encourages users to share in the moment. These posts ‘disappear’ before they can be fact-checked, making them difficult to report.

General Comment no.25 covers upholding children’s rights  in the digital world. It emphasises the opportunities that connectivity brings, alongside the need to protect children from the risk of harm.

Discover more information about these features that spread misinformation here.