Category Archives: misinformation

How good at spotting fake news are you? This 2-minute quiz will tell you

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: While you may of course go directly to the quiz (with the warning that it takes a while to load), I highly recommend you take the time to review the startling – and deeply troubling – data the quiz has exposed to date. For those who are either very curious or very competitive, I scored 17/20 for veracity discernment, identifying 100% of the fake news headlines, with a distrust score of -3 for being a bit too skeptical and misclassifying real news as fake. Apparently, I scored better than 70% of the US population. Yikes.]

Take the Misinformation Susceptibility Test

‘Very online’ Gen Z and millennials are most vulnerable to fake news 

From the University of Cambridge:

University of Cambridge psychologists have developed the first validated “misinformation susceptibility test.”

The quick two-minute quiz gives a solid indication of how vulnerable a person is to being duped by the kind of fabricated news that is flooding online spaces.

The test, proven to work through a series of experiments involving over 8,000 participants taking place over two years, has been deployed by polling organisation YouGov to determine how susceptible Americans are to fake headlines.

The first survey to use the new 20-point test, called ‘MIST’ by researchers and developed using an early version of ChatGPT, has found that – on average – adult US citizens correctly classified two-thirds (65%) of headlines they were shown as either real or fake.

However, the polling found that younger adults are worse than older adults at identifying false headlines, and that the more time someone spent online recreationally, the less likely they were to be able to tell real news from misinformation.

This runs counter to prevailing public attitudes regarding online misinformation spread, say researchers – that older, less digitally-savvy “boomers” are more likely to be taken in by fake news.

The study presenting the validated MIST is published in the journal Behavior Research Methods, and the polling is released today on the YouGov US website.

Researchers encourage the public to test themselves:

Selecting true or false against 20 headlines gives the user a set of scores and a “resilience” ranking that compares them to the wider US population. It takes under two minutes to complete.

“Misinformation is one of the biggest challenges facing democracies in the digital age,” said Prof Sander van der Linden, senior author of the MIST study, and head of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“To understand where and how best to fight misinformation, we need a unified way of measuring susceptibility to fake news. That is what our test provides,” said van der Linden, author of the new book Foolproof.

The Cambridge team developed assessment tools that enabled them to work out the right level and mix of fake and genuine headlines to produce the most reliable results.

Examples of real news came from outlets such as the Pew Research Center and Reuters.

To create false but confusingly credible headlines – similar to misinformation encountered “in the wild” – in an unbiased way, researchers used artificial intelligence: ChatGPT version 2.

“When we needed a set of convincing but false headlines, we turned to GPT technology. The AI generated thousands of fake headlines in a matter of seconds. As researchers dedicated to fighting misinformation, it was eye-opening and alarming,” said Dr Rakoen Maertens, MIST lead author.

However, another recent study by the same team used GPT to produce useful questions for a variety of psychological surveys. “We encourage our fellow psychologists to embrace AI and help steer the technology in beneficial directions,” said MIST co-author Dr Friedrich Götz.

For the MIST, an international committee of misinformation experts whittled down the true and false headline selections. Variations of the survey were then tested extensively in experiments involving thousands of UK and US participants.

The latest YouGov survey saw 1,516 adult US citizens take the MIST in April 2023, and also respond to questions covering demographics, politics and online behaviour.

When it came to age, only 11% of 18-29 year olds got a high score (over 16 headlines correct), while 36% got a low score (10 headlines or under correct). By contrast, 36% of those 65 or older got a high score, while just 9% of older adults got a low score.

Additionally, the longer someone spent online for fun each day, the greater their susceptibility to misinformation, according to the MIST. Some 30% of those spending 0-2 recreation hours online each day got a high score, compared to just 15% of those spending 9 or more hours online.

The survey also analysed channels through which respondents receive their news. The “legacy media” came out top. For example, over 50% of those who got their news from the Associated Press, or NPR, or newer outlets such as Axios, achieved high scores.

Social media had the news audiences most susceptible to misinformation. Some 53% of those who got news from Snapchat received low scores, with just 4% getting high scores. Truth Social was a close second, followed by WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram.

Democrats performed better than Republicans on the MIST, with 33% of Democrats achieving high scores, compared to just 14% of Republicans. However, almost a quarter of both parties’ followers were in the low-scoring bracket.

Perhaps alarmingly, half of all Americans now say they see what they believe to be misinformation online every day, according to the YouGov poll.

Dr Maertens added: “Younger people increasingly turn to social media to find out about the world, but these channels are awash with misinformation.

“Approaches to media literacy, as well as algorithms and platform design, require an urgent rethink.”

“The MIST will allow us to verify the effectiveness of interventions to tackle fake news. We want to explore why some people are more resilient to misinformation, and what we can learn from them.”

Dixon author Kelly James: Enough with COVID misinformation

The county public health department — specifically Bela Matyas — has been feeding the community misinformation…When will the county administration stop being complicit?

Fairfield Reporter Letters, by Kelly James, September 1, 2021
Dr. Bela Matyas, Deputy Director of Health and Social Services, Solano County Health Officer

When is enough, enough?

Over 2,000 new COVID-19 infections in the last couple weeks — primarily due to people going to parties, playing beer pong, and sharing cigarettes? So the infection and subsequent COVID death of the individual in the care facility was the result of their participation in summer parties and frat games? How about all the recent infections among the under 18 age group?

From the onset of the pandemic, the county public health department — specifically Bela Matyas — has been feeding the community misinformation. It began with his assurance to parents that kids were basically immune, continued with his social media video stating that masks weren’t necessary and the virus wouldn’t spread in confined spaces as long as you had a partition to protect you, and now, once again, he is making comments that are misleading and contradicting himself constantly in his public statements.

Until very recently he was still informing the public that COVID was primarily transmitted through droplets expelled by an infected person who coughed or sneezed or by someone touching a surface on which these droplets had settled and then touching their face and so forth. This despite the fact that in recent months the CDC and every other major medical association in the United States and the world had changed their assessment of the modes of transmission (based on lengthy, verifiable medical studies and research) to infections primarily occurring through microparticles which stay suspended in the air when people breath, talk, etc., as well as large droplets expelled when coughing and so forth. These studies are what fueled the initial spring and summer mask advisories made by the CDC. These are the “new information” which Dr. Matyas refuses to acknowledge as it validates the obvious need for indoor masking and contradicts his advisements to the public.

All of this absurdity is laughable from a distance, but for many of us living in Solano County, it’s a nightmare. When is the Solano County Board of Supervisors going to step in and do something? Do they or does anyone for that matter truly believe that every other medical professional, public health department, and health agency in the state is wrong and ours is right?

Solano County has been consistently the last in the state to be proactive and as a result, people have and are dying. We will get shut down again if basic precautions continue to go unheeded or enforced. When will the county administration stop being complicit?

Kelly James/Dixon

See also:

Coronavirus lies, nonsense and misinformation… set straight

Misinformation goes Viral

TheStartup, by Jason Shepherd, Apr 13, 2020 (updated 4/22)

Self Isolation has led many to delve into crackpot theories that go from man-made viruses to spread of infections via 5G cell phone towers. Now, those that are rational are already asking the right questions and seeking legit sources of information…but more and more people are losing it. Feel free to use the information in this story to educate your friends. This pandemic is stressful enough without people confabulating nonsense!

I’ve found that people “listen” more if you have credentials, so while I’m not a fan of throwing letters at people…here are mine. I have a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I did my postdoctoral work at MIT and am now an Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah .

I run a research lab that works on the molecular mechanisms of memory and brain plasticity ( More recently, we made a surprising discovery between memory and..viruses. If interested, see here

and here.

All of that just means that I spent a long time being trained to problem solve, analyze data and I know a fair amount about biology.

All of the links below are public and I encourage you to read them. In no particular order here are some common themes of misinformation:

1. No, YOU (bar the first Chinese patients in Wuhan) did not have COVID19 prior to Jan 2020.

The first documented cases in China were in late November/early Dec 2019. Scientists can “track” the origins of viruses by sequencing their genetic material. Over time, viruses accumulate mutations that make them identifiable. Think of family trees and tracing genetic mutations, this is very similar. See this article for a good explanation:

UPDATE: If you are interested in the analysis mentioned in the NYTs article, here’s a great website that traces the sequencing data: and for the US:

2. The virus is NOT man made.

Scientists can compare the sequence of the new virus with other known viruses and determine how similar it is. The most similar virus is a coronavirus found in bats and the differences are due to mutations that occur through natural evolution, rather than an artificial sequence that was suddenly added.There are literally billions of viruses, all with different hosts and life-cycles…some mutations allow those viruses to jump into new hosts. The clearest picture so far is that SARS-COV-2 originated from bats and maybe an intermediate host. The most likely scenario is that this jump from an intermediate host happened in the wild animal market in Wuhan (

In addition, the interaction between the virus spike protein (that make the “crown” of proteins that stick out from the balloon-like membrane) and the human receptor ACE2, which allows the virus to get into human cells, is complicated and something that would be extremely hard to engineer ( Indeed, the ACE2 interaction had already been identified with a bat coronavirus in 2010, giving credence for a natural origin (

4/17 UPDATE: There are insinuations that a lab in China working on bat coronaviruses may have let the virus “escape”. There’s a lot of finger pointing by various US agencies, but I’ve yet to see any scientific analysis that makes this claim credible…so far. There’s also precedent for coronaviruses jumping hosts and into humans, both SARS and MERS for example. Indeed, scientists had publicly warned that this would be one of the most probable causes for an international virus outbreak. Here’s a good write up on the evidence for all of this:

3. NUMBERS and MODELS are not deliberately misleading people.

Guys, this is a new virus and nothing was known about it prior to Dec 2019. The good news is that it is similar to the previously known coronaviruses SARS and MERS. But infectivity and mortality were completely unknown. Scientists use models to refine their ideas but no one model is correct. You’re seeing discrepancy in models/projections precisely because science isn’t magic…the more we know about the virus and how it works, infects people etc the better the model.

Conversely, epidemiologists can study past and current data to INFER what will happen in the future. All models point to social distancing as a means to stop spread and indeed this is working

So no, there’s no conspiracy by scientists to “control the numbers”. While governments might be producing their own propaganda on how they are dealing with the pandemic, there are legit sources of data that are impartial to politics (eg. and

4. COVID is not the flu! By now, I hope most are convinced.

But, here’s a representation of the worst case scenario happening in NYC right now (with updated numbers 4/16) and it’s scary ! From

The weekly COVID numbers are compiled from the daily Johns Hopkins numbers pulled from their GITHUB repository. The CDC flu, pneumonia and total death numbers are downloaded from the FluView site here:

The CDC flu, pneumonia and total death numbers are downloaded from the FluView site here:

UPDATE: 4/22. Here’s a video that shows the daily deaths of COVID and the main causes of the death in the US. You get an intuitive grasp on how bad this pandemic is!

5. Bill Gates.

When he announced that he was going to help develop a COVID vaccine, people went nuts. People started asserting that: Gates wants to kill people with the vaccine; Gates patented the new virus; Gates knew about the virus before the Chinese. WTF people, let’s try and use critical thinking skills?! The richest man on earth gave up running a company to devote all his time to a foundation that is dedicated to public health ( Go check out their website. No, Gates won’t profit off of a new vaccine, no he doesn’t want to kill off people with it and NO he isn’t orchestrating some sort of grand plan to take over the world like a Bond villain!

6. The claim — virus is spread by 5G cell phone towers.

OMFG! First, 5G is just as safe as 4G. And 4G is just as safe as your home microwave. Second, a virus cannot be spread by cell phone towers because viruses, you know, only infect living things. So please don’t go and destroy cell phone towers.

UPDATE: Since I’m now also getting a lot of questions about 5G itself, I thought I would say something here. Cell phones use radio wave frequencies to transmit. If you remember your HS physics, electromagnetic waves include visible light, radio and X-rays. Radio waves carry less energy and are long-forms, X-rays much more energy and shorter. The latter is called ionizing radiation and are dangerous as we all know. The milli- and microwaves are safe, except for the generation of heat (which is how microwaves heat up food).

So, 5G has a little more energy than 4G but has orders of magnitude less energy/harm than visible light. You should be WAY more worried about UV rays from the sun. For more info, see here:

7. Health care workers and almost all the scientists I know are working to save lives.

There are accusations that scientists manufactured the virus or that we are covering up for big pharma companies. We are not paid off by the government or big pharma! We really just want to help people. Health workers are literally putting their lives on the line under challenging conditions.

Scientists are racing to find treatments and produce a vaccine. Science works by a process and that takes time. You will see announcements that X drug works but often this need repeating and validation. This isn’t because scientists don’t know what they’re doing! For a nice explanation of how this works, see here:

I understand that people are afraid and desperate for good news, but we should all wait for confirmation from the medical community before rushing to conclusions.

8. Herd immunity.

I’m loving that anti-vaxxers are now claiming that herd immunity is better than having a vaccine. Well, crap…did you know that vaccines actually WORK by accelerating herd immunity? Yes, that’s right..herd immunity is when enough people have recovered from the virus to then be immune and cannot reinfect other people or get sick. Now, there’s a lot of uncertainty of how well or how long people recovering from COVID will be immune, but ultimately the only way to control the pandemic is through herd immunity. BUT, natural herd immunity will need at least 70% of the total population to be immune. If this is done by just letting the virus spread unchecked, we are talking about millions of people dying world-wide over the next few years. Vaccines accelerate herd immunity without killing people by inducing antibody production that can kill the virus, the same kind of antibody response people achieve after recovering from an infection .

We are all in this together! The internet is a double-edged sword, endless access to information…but often it’s hard to determine what information to pay attention to. My advice,

Keep Calm and listen to Experts!