UCC researchers examining 'fake news' influence on gay marriage referendum

UCC researchers examining 'fake news' influence on gay marriage referendum

Steff O'Leary and Tracy O'Riordan calling for a Yes vote in the 2015 Marriage Referendum. UCC researchers are conducting a survey into whether fake news may have influenced voters. Pic: Larry Cummins.

UCC researchers are embarking on a study into 'Fake News' to find out if fabricated stories or events can implant memories in the Irish public.

The issue of 'fake news' came to prominence in recent months by US. There has also been widespread criticism of a range of websites that masquerade as news outlets in order to spread false and malicious stories. Facebook in particular, has announced plans to crack down on the spread of false stories being shared on their site. Critics of the new US President Donald Trump have said such stories helped him in the polls in the lead-up to the election.

President Trump himself has used the 'fake news' term to dismiss news agencies like CNN who he said has reported on his campaign in a negative manner.

Now, researchers in the UCC's Psychology Department are conducting a study into how our perceptions of political events can change over time. 

Specifically, their study aims to find out whether the use of ‘fake news’ can implant memories of fabricated events in the Irish public.

The study is part of an undergraduate student from Cork’s final year research and centres around the Irish Marriage Referendum in 2015.

They cite previous research evidence from the US that shows that people’s perceptions of political events can be altered by what happens after the event. 

For example, the result of an election can influence how people perceive events from that election campaign. However, it has not been found for an issue as deeply personal and emotive as same-sex marriage.

The UCC researchers aim to find out whether the US findings will hold up for Cork people and for such a personal and emotive issue as same-sex marriage.

The students have created a survey and are asking the public to respond to it. The survey, which takes 15 minutes to complete, involves looking at 13 pictures of events from the Marriage Referendum campaign and answering four questions about your memory and perception of these events. Participants need not have voted but must have been 18 on the day of the referendum.

UCC undergrad Stephen O'Neill from St Luke's, who is conducting the research said previous research in the US has shown that Democrats had more false memories of a completely fabricated President Bush scandal than Republicans and Republicans were more inclined to ‘remember’ a fake President Obama Scandal than Democrats.

"We are interested in whether, for the Marriage Referendum campaign, Irish Yes voters will be more inclined to ‘remember’ a fabricated event which makes the No campaign look bad and vice versa," he said.

"We use our memory of campaign events when deciding who to vote for so if ‘fake news’ can implant false memories in the Irish public it could be shown that ‘fake news’ can affect for what Irish people vote," he said.

The researchers are looking for as many participants as possible. To participate visit a special website: http://referendumsurvey.ucc.ie

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