How Fake News Could Be Creating Fake Memories

Fake news is not just misinforming people, it's also causing them to create fake memories, a new study has found.

The researchers, from the University College Cork, University College Dublin and the University of California used the memories of 3,140 eligible voters in the 2018 Irish referendum on abortion.

The more the fake news aligned with a respondents political views, the more likely they were to "remember" false memories, lead author Gillian Murphy said.

"In particular, they are likely to 'remember' scandals that reflect poorly on the opposing candidate," Murphy said.

Supporters gathered at Dublin Castle for the result Irish referendum result on the 8th amendment concerning the country's abortion laws on May 26, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. IMAGE: Getty Images

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In the week before the vote, the respondents were shown six news reports and then asked if they remembered encountering the story previously.

But two of the news stories were fake -- one each showing campaigners on either side of the Irish abortion debate taking part in illegal or inflammatory behaviour.

Photo: Getty

If the respondent remembered the story, they were then asked to recount specific memories of the event in the report.

Nearly half of the participants gave a memory for at least one of the made-up stories, some even including many details about memories of it, the study found.

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Additionally, some even reported 'facts' about the fake stories that were not even included in the report they were given.

"This demonstrates the ease with which we can plant these entirely fabricated memories, despite this voter suspicion and even despite an explicit warning that they may have been shown fake news," Murphy said.

Photo: Getty

After recounting their 'memories', respondents were then told not all of the stories were real. Incredibly, many "failed to reconsider" the memory attached to the fake news story.

The study, which was publishing in the peer-reviewed journal 'Psychological Science', is "novel" because it looked at fake news and memories in relation to a real referendum.

Researchers suggest the same phenomenon can happen in other political situations, such as the upcoming 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

"In highly emotional, partisan political contests, such as the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, voters may 'remember' entirely fabricated news stories," Murphy said.

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As technology becomes more sophisticated it is becoming easier to create fake news, images and video, the understanding of the psychological effects of fake news is becoming "critical", leading memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California said.

"People will act on their fake memories, and it is often hard to convince them that fake news is fake," Loftus said.

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