Students look at their phones
Students are unlikely to spot fake news says a new study Reuters

Most students are unable to spot the difference between fake news or sponsored content on social media from genuine news on the internet, a new study has found. Teenagers, who otherwise are very savvy on social media platforms, fail when it comes to evaluating the accuracy and trustworthiness of the content, the research said.

A Stanford University study – conducted among 7,804 students from middle school through college – showed that poor research skills, due to the lack of use of libraries in the digital age, have led students to trust media literacy blindly. As a result, students who do not check the source of information or credibility of a news piece, end up treating sponsored or promoted content as well as fake content at par with real news articles.

Nearly 82% of the middle school students could not distinguish between an ad labelled "sponsored content" and a real news story on a website, while two out of three middle-school students did not even see any valid reason to not trust a random post written by a bank executive about financial-planning. Many of these teens determined the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or the size of the photo attached, rather than its source.

A study in 2015 by Media Insight Project showed that 88% of young adults regularly got news from Facebook and other social media sites. This lead to an "echo chamber effect" as social media tends to bombard users with news, similar to those users have read before, according to Walter C. Parker, a professor of education at the University of Washington.

For instance four out of 10 high-school students in the study conducted believed, based on the headline, that a photograph of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site showed strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, without even noticing that there was no source nor a location given for the photo.

"Students should learn to evaluate sources' reliability based on whether they're named, independent and well-informed or authoritative," said Jonathan Anzalone, assistant director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University in New York. "Posts should cite multiple sources, and the information should be verifiable elsewhere," he added.

In the past few weeks, following the US presidential elections, many digital researchers have blamed social media sites like Facebook and Twitter along with Google's search engine for failing to stop a barrage of fake news articles on their platforms. Some even said that the election voting pattern may have been altered due to this menace.

All companies denied the claim and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that although his company was going to take strong steps to stop these articles from circulating on its platform, he added that to think of an entire election being affected by it was a "pretty crazy idea".