If you think young adults regard Twitter and other social media as legitimate news sources, think again - they may be letting you think that, but even then they may be doing it ironically.

Instead, like most people on Twitter, they retweet messages they like and don't actually read any of the links, just like most people. And young people know that anyone can start a Twitter account and post bogus information. They know politicians do it, they know companies do it, they know anarchists do it.

Fan of science and critic of wasted science funding Senator Tom Coburn won't like this, but the National Science Foundation spent money to examine social media and "false memory" - as you  

"Our findings suggest young people are somewhat wary of information that comes from Twitter," said Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, lead investigator on the study. "It's a good sign."


And absolutely obvious to everyone without spending taxpayer money. Even Twitter knows this - they know everything about their users, they make the data open, and it will tell you if you just look.




Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. Credit: Michigan State University

They showed 74 undergraduates a series of images on a computer that depicted a story of a man robbing a car. False information about the story was then presented in a scrolling text feed that bore a high resemblance to Twitter or in a feed from a more traditional online source.

The researchers tested whether the students integrated the bogus information into their minds, which psychologists call false memory. The results showed that when the participants read the "Twitter" feed, they were much less likely to form false memories about the story.

Fenn said the students were more mistrustful of the Twitter feed than they were of the more traditional feed.

"We propose young adults are taking into account the medium of the message when integrating information into memory," Fenn said.


Marshall McLuhan would be proud.