Q & A

'It's more about laziness': U of R Prof talks fake news and why some fall for it

Gordon Pennycook said people need to think more and slow down before sharing things on social media.

'Ultimately there is no silver bullet. We can't just solve the problem.'

Gordon Pennycook said bias may be less to blame for the spread of fake news than laziness. (Shutterstock)

Gordon Pennycook studies what he calls "the science of human stupidity."

The University of Regina cognitive psychologist and assistant professor looks at what causes errors in how people think. In recent years, the spread of false information has become a large societal issue. 

Pennycook spoke about his research with Zarqa Nawaz on CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Zarqa Nawaz: What made you want to research fake news? 

Gordon Pennycook: I was in the States during the election and fake news became a big story then.

I do work on topics that pertain to errors in people's thinking and reasoning and fake news is a pretty prominent one.

What is it that you specifically study when it comes to fake news? 

Our research is on both who believes it and why, and why people share on social media.

The reason people keep on sharing and it keeps on popping up on our Facebook is that we're really biased.

Another count is that people are being lazy on Facebook. They're not thinking about what they're doing and they're just kind of sharing mindlessly.

Why do people mistake fake news for real news? 

All the evidence we have so far says it's more about laziness then it is about bias. The reason why people call for fake news is because they just really aren't thinking about it enough.

A little bit of thinking can actually kind of go a long way and help people recognize fake news.

If someone has really strong opinions and is not willing to be analytical is there any way to reach them? 

You have to make the content — the thing that you want them to think about — less ideological for them to get over that aspect and get them to think about it more. And then you have to kind of be forceful with the thinking part.

How do we go about fighting fake news?

We kind of want to try to change how people interact with social media. And this is going to be kind of hard for us to implement.

The evidence we have so far is that if we can get people to slow down a little bit and think about accuracy when they're sharing things that will have some impact. But ultimately there is no silver bullet. We can't just solve the problem.

It's going to be up to the individual consumer to keep diligent when they're looking at things and not to fall for made up stories on Facebook.

With Files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition