We argue that much of sharing online misinformation is due to people simply being distracted from thinking about whether news is accurate, rather than purposeful sharing of falsehoods. As a result, we show that subtly shifting users’ attention to accuracy increases the quality of the news that they share. Accuracy prompts offer a scalable approach to fighting online misinformation that does not rely on a centralized authority (eg Facebook or the government) deciding what is true versus false.

We investigate why people share misinformation, and what can reduce the sharing of online misinformation. We find that the veracity of headlines has little effect on sharing intentions, despite true headlines being judged as much more accurate than false headlines. Despite this disconnect between accuracy judgments and sharing, most respondents say it is important to share only accurate news. We suggest that this apparent contradiction is explained by social media focusing people’s attention on factors other than accuracy—so that they fail to implement a strongly held preference for accurate sharing. Supporting this argument, we find that subtly shifting users’ attention to accuracy increases the quality of news that they subsequently share – including in a large field experiment with over 5000 Twitter users. Our results challenge the popular claim that people value partisanship over accuracy, and provide evidence for scalable attention-based interventions that social media platforms could easily implement.


Tags: Misinformation, Fake News, Social Media, Politics, Covid-19