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Can We Stop Misinformation from Spreading?


A case study of the experimental project “ChecknShare” that aims to help Taiwanese seniors properly react to their day-to-day misinformation challenges.

Seniors stay on the Internet longer than you expect.

According to the 2017 internet usage report from the Institute for Information Industry, the growth rate of Taiwanese’s (ages 55 and over) mobile internet usage is the highest in the country. We believe that a person’s age shouldn’t determine their quality of online experience, so our team started an experimental project called “ChecknShare” by researching Taiwanese seniors’ online social experiences.

From the in-depth interview results, we found out that most of the elders tend to stick to going online in order to stabilize their social connections with their friends and family. They actively share articles about health, interesting stories, or daily news in direct messages every day to show they care about others. The motivation behind sharing is, to trigger further communication with positive feedback that brings a sense of achievement to them.

However, we also observed that messaging apps are silos with lots of misinformation spreading virally. A large number of seniors suffer from sharing misinformation inadvertently. Our participants have common experiences of being corrected by peers when sharing, which harms their ego and makes them more hesitant about sharing.

Design for better sharing

Some key screens of ChecknShare

“How might we help seniors share accurate and attractive results?”

After understanding their pain points, we decided to design an App to help seniors to identify misinformation during their sharing journey, and make their sharing results stand out from group chat messages so that the receivers’ will have more interest in reading what they’ve shared.

From seniors’ daily practice, we noticed that they are highly engaged in sending customized images with greeting messages. Therefore, we planned to provide several well-crafted templates for users to put key paragraphs from a sharing article so that it will be easy for them to come out with a fascinating sharing result.

If a user is trying to use misinformation to make an image, ChecknShare provides explanations which are contributed by the fact-check contributors in Cofacts (a non-profit organization which aims to build an open-source database to collect verification results for suspicious information reported by users). Users can decide whether they want to keep working on the sharing image, or change their mind to share the explanations with their friends and families.

Prototype testing and findings

Individual interviews for understanding how participants accomplished tasks

During the 10 month process, we did rounds of validation to see if the concept fits users’ needs (Here’s the previous post shared more stories about the process). The latest validation we did is the prototype testing. 6 participants were invited to install the prototype and try it out for a week before we had individual interviews with them. Here are some insightful findings:

Does misinformation matter to seniors?
1.There are levels of misinformation

Lots of participants told us that sometimes they still shared the content when it wasn’t seriously wrong to them (examples like misquoting a well-known fact from a celebrity or a doctor who never said it). Because they tend to share the information which aligns with what they believe.

2. Privacy is a MUST when it comes to automating the information checking

The ChecknShare prototype experimented with manual, automatic, and LINE bot methods for sending information to check if it’s true. During the week, we had participants to experience them all and asked them to prioritize the methods to their preferences.

The one that forwarded the information to a LINE bot for checking got the highest score since it didn’t require participants to leave LINE. They refused to automatically check both received messages and sentences they copied, even if those were hassle-free options. The reason is because they were anxious about exposing their sensitive data.

Compared to automatically checking information, they preferred to manually copy and paste the information to ChecknShare because they could control what was verified.

The Takeaway:
“Users’ privacy shouldn’t be compromised in reducing the effort of checking information.”
How seniors react to misinformation?
The Takeaway:
“Users’ privacy shouldn’t be compromised in reducing the effort of checking information.” How seniors react to misinformation?

1.Checking misinformation is essential

During the week, some of our participants had friends that forwarded some information to a group chat room and consulted with the group members about the truth of it. We had some participants who shared similar stories in the previous interviews as well. The interesting part was that our participants were very proud of sending back the checked results to the group. Clarifying misinformation is a source of gaining a sense of achievement for them.

2. The intention of sharing misinformation was reduced effectively after reading checked results

We had our participants make images with the information we provided including some misinformation. When it came to the misinformation, our participants tried to share the checked results instead of the original misinformation. It proved that offering checked results could effectively decrease the willingness to share misinformation.

For the checking results, we found it very important to our participants to get explanations with reference links rather than just simply explaining the reason why it was true or false (even if it was reported true). They desired to know if the explanation was trusted, and wanted to preserve the right to judge true or false.

The Takeaway:
”The key to stopping misinformation from spreading is to make people aware of misinformation during their sharing process.“
Do seniors have a common preference for sharing results?
1.Two distinct needs of sharers and checkers

Seniors who frequently share articles with their friends and families but don’t verify in advance are defined as sharers. Sharers are looking for not only a wide variety of editing features which make their shared images stand out from their group chat, but also the ability to attach URLs for receivers to link back to the original web pages.

However, checkers who have a habit of verifying the information before sharing don’t attach importance to the editing features. In fact, they need sophisticated checking and sharing results that provide related information to satisfy their hunger for knowledge.

While we found these two user segments have different needs, we still found common ground there: They both want to report the results back to their friends and families without any hassles.

The Takeaway:
“Hassle-free experience for reporting back to their friends and families is essential to seniors.“
So…Is it possible to stop misinformation from spreading?

From what we’ve learned from project ChecknShare, I believe the answer is positive in the future where we can effectively narrow the gap of getting more related information when receiving suspicious messages.

Mozilla has committed itself to continue to explore more opportunities to improve Internet trust in Asia. We hope the findings we’ve shared in this post will inspire you to build new products/ services that help Internet citizens struggle less in the era of misinformation overload. As a product designer working in the tech industry, I’m ending up the story in a geeky way…?

Feel free to visit and play with the prototype in our Github repository below:

Thank you, everyone.

My teammates and I had a wonderful journey with the huge support we received in the past 10 months. We are deeply grateful to the 45 seniors who shared their daily mobile phone experiences in our user research, and the organizations: Cofacts, 美玉姨, Mygopen, 台灣事實查核中心 that verified the misinformation and shared their expertise in the industry with us selflessly.

This post was originally published on Tina Hsieh Blog.
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