BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Fake news and misinformation continues to be a major problem across various news media platforms and all corners of the Internet. Now, however, researchers from the University of Birmingham may have uncovered an effective way to spot fake news. Study authors say grammatical patterns in the way journalists use language can distinguish between real and fake news stories.
The research team believes this work can help anyone – from everyday readers to entire organizations – looking to combat disinformation online. These findings are the result of a detailed linguistic analysis of the work of former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair, who left the paper after reportedly plagiarizing and fabricating stories. That analysis, researchers say, has established that there can be clear stylistic differences in the linguistic patterns of real and fake reports.
Professor of Corpus Linguistics, Jack Grieve, and PhD researcher Helena Woodfield conducted this study. The findings are also published by Cambridge University Press in the book “The Language of Fake News.” During the course of their work, Grieve and Woodfield discovered that Blair wrote his questionable reports in a less informationally dense style, with less conviction, in comparison to his real news articles.
“We conducted a detailed analysis of the grammatical features used by Blair in 64 of his articles, 36 of which were fake news, and discovered 28 important differences in the style of his real and fake articles,” Prof. Grieve says in a university release.
“There are clear stylistic differences between the articles in which Blair told the truth and those in which he lied. He made consistent linguistics choices in his fake news resulting in grammatical patterns that distinguish his fake news from his real news.”
How can you spot the fake?
More specifically, the study found that Blair’s fake news was less informationally dense. In other words, when Blair was apparently lying, study authors say he tended to write in a much more concise manner, putting less information into his articles. He also wrote with less conviction in these reports, adopting a less confident tone, while also being less specific about where he obtained the information in these stories.
Fake news is a major problem right now. From social media platforms to news agencies and even entire governments, the team says there are many organizations that could benefit from these findings.
“The stylistic signals we have identified in Blair’s fake news reporting can only be applied directly to Blair, but this study demonstrates that there are linguistic features which can help identify fake news. In the future, we hope to replicate this study on a larger scale so that we can obtain a more general picture of the language of fake news,” Prof. Grieve comments.
“Our research shows that fake news can be associated with a clear and meaningful linguistic signal. This is potentially good news for those looking to identify and remove false stories, and combat disinformation, particularly online.”
While such language patterns are admittedly complex and probably difficult for most people to pick up on while reading their morning news, these findings offer an important basis for understanding some of the rhetorical strategies that likely infest fake news articles.
“The public has perhaps never been more distrustful of the news as we are right now, but we hope that knowing of the existence of these types of linguistic patterns will help people spot lies when reading the news and encourage further research on the language of fake news,” Prof. Grieve concludes.