I tried to post this as a seed, but had to to it as an article, as it wouldn't post.
We know a lot about fake news. Academics have been studying it -- and how to combat it -- for decades. In 1925, Harper's Magazine published "Fake News and the Public," calling its spread via new communication technologies "a source of unprecedented danger."
That danger has only increased, of course. Some of the most shared "news stories" from the 2016 U.S. election -- such as Hillary Clinton selling weapons to Islamic State or the pope endorsing Donald Trump for president -- were simply made up.
Unfortunately -- as a conference we recently convened at Harvard revealed -- the solutions Google, Facebook and other tech giants and media companies are pursuing aren't in many instances the ones that social scientists and computer scientists are convinced will work.
We know, for example, that the more you're exposed to things that aren't true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them. As recent studies led by psychologist Gordon Pennycook, political scientist Adam Berinsky and others have shown, over time people tend to forget where or how they found out about a news story. When they encounter it again, it is familiar from the prior exposure, and so they are more likely to accept it as true.
Reducing acceptance of fake news thus means making it less familiar. Editors, producers, distributors and aggregators need to stop repeating these stories, especially in their headlines. A fact-check story about "birtherism," for example, should lead by debunking the myth, not restating it.
This flies in the face of a lot of traditional journalistic practice. The online Washington Post regularly features "Fact Checker" headlines consisting of claims to be evaluated, with a "Pinocchio Test" appearing at the end of the accompanying story. The problem is that readers are more likely to notice and remember the claim than the conclusion.
To persuade people that fake news is fake, the messenger is as important as the message. When it comes to correcting falsehoods, a fellow partisan is often more persuasive than a neutral third party. For instance, Trump is arguably the individual most closely associated with birtherism. But in September 2016, Trump announced that Obama was a native-born American, "period." Polling a few days later showed an 18-percentage point drop among registered Republicans in acceptance of the birther myth. Countless debunking stories by fact checkers had far less impact.
The internet platforms have perhaps the most important role in the fight against fake news. They need to move suspect news stories farther down the lists of items returned through search engines or social media feeds. The key to evaluating credibility, and story placement, is to focus not on individual items but on the cumulative stream of content from a given website.
Google recently announced some promising steps in this direction. It was responding to criticism that its search algorithm had elevated to front-page status some stories featuring Holocaust denial and false information about the 2016 election. But more remains to be done.