Eye-witness videos of a terrorist attack – stop and think before you share!

November 10th, 2020 by

At 20.00 on Monday, 2 November 2020, a terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria.[1] Four civilians and the attacker were killed, more than 20 people including a police officer were injured. Like with any other terrorist attack in the past years, the event was accompanied by a plethora of speculations, rumours, misinformation as well as real eye-witness videos posted on social media, especially during and in the immediate aftermaths of the attack. Social media play an increasing role in such events; while sharing information and videos can unite people in a shared feeling of experience throughout such events, the distribution of this kind of information is problematic for several reasons.

First and foremost, sharing videos of attacks gives terrorists a stage assisting them to fulfil their goals: terrorists need publicity to scare people and destabilise societies. Surely, it is important to provide information about such events, to warn the population of the attack. However, it is also crucial to avoid giving terrorists the chance to divide societies, to create the hatred they intend to create. Furthermore, eye-witness videos may cause psychological distress and reach audiences such as minors and youths. In addition, it may jeopardise the police investigation and put police officers at risk. During the attack in Vienna, police repeatedly asked to submit videos to a dedicated (closed) channel and avoid sharing any rumours and videos on social media. However, rumours did spread indeed, misinforming the population about kidnappings, other cities being attacked, the number of victims and attackers, the reasons and motivations behind the attack, and… the list goes on.

Cases like this prove the importance of following information hygiene guidelines. Specifically, the recommendation to ‘stop and think before you share’ goes beyond sharing misinformation. It targets the responsibility each and every member of a society. Especially during breaking events, it is crucial to be careful what information to share: mainstream media may be misinformed, and anonymous or other, non-trustworthy sources may deliberately or by accident share rumours. Even in the case of factual information, it still might be better to refrain from sharing disturbing videos – due to the abovementioned reasons. This does not mean we should stop talking about such events, and it certainly does not mean any kind of censorship. But it means to think about the consequences of what we say and share on media with such a broad audience.

As such, social media users need to be trained to stop and think about the consequences and implications of a post before they share it, or refrain from sharing: when in doubt, don’t share. EUNOMIA provides a set of tools that support this process, providing indicators and information on the provenance of information.


[1] see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/03/vienna-shooting-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-attack

Eat, Sleep, Trust, Repeat or The Illusory Truth Effect

June 23rd, 2020 by

Have you ever noticed how a vaguely familiar statement, something you remember hearing, makes you think “there has to be something to it” or “this has to be true, I have heard it before”? This is what social psychology calls the “illusory truth effect”, which means that a person attributes higher credibility and trustworthiness to information to which they have been exposed before. In a nutshell, repetition makes information more credible and trustworthy. Frequency, it seems, serves as a “criterion of certitude”.

What is really interesting about this is that this effect has not only been tested for plausible information but even for statements initially identified as false. And the effect is immediate: already reading a false statement once is enough to increase later perceptions of its accuracy. An experiment carried out by researchers in the US showed the truth effect even for highly implausible, entirely fabricated news stories. The researchers further were able to show that the effect holds true even if participants forgot having seen the information previously. Even if participants disagree with information, repetition made it more plausible.

But why does this effect exist? Research gives us several answers to this. First, familiarity with the information leads to faster processing of that information. Second, recognition of information, and coherency of statements with previous information in a person’s memory, affect our judgement. Third, there is a learned effect that faster processing of information and truthfulness of information can be positively correlated.

When it comes to misinformation and fake news, the importance of this effect cannot be stressed enough. Even warnings by fact-checkers or experts cannot counter it; the only way of protecting yourself and others from misinformation is to avoid sharing any piece of dubious information. So, one of the most important rules we identified as part of our guidelines for information hygiene is simply if in doubt, don’t share.

References

Bacon, F. (1979). Credibility of repeated statements: Memory for trivia. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5(3), 241–252.

Hasher, L., Goldstein, D., & Toppino, T. (1977). Frequency and the conference of referential validity. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 16(1), 107-112.

Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. (2018). Who falls for fake news? The roles of bullshit receptivity, overclaiming, familiarity, and analytic thinking. Journal of personality.

Pennycook, G., Cannon, T. D., & Rand, D. G. (2018). Prior exposure increases perceived accuracy of fake news. Journal of experimental psychology: general., 147(12), 1865–1880. doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000465

Unkelbach, C. (2007). Reversing the Truth Effect: Learning the Interpretation of Processing Fluency in Judgments of Truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(1), 2019-230.

Unkelbach, C., Koch, A., Silva, R. R., & Garcia-Marques, T. (2019). Truth by Repetition: Explanations and Implications. urrent Directions in Psychological Science, 28(3), 247-253.