“Alternative” facts. Fake news. Disinformation campaigns. Social media manipulation. The landscape of news and information in today’s world continues to radically shift. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford University, social media manipulation campaigns have steadily increased in the last three years, appearing in an estimated 70 countries in 2019. Combating this issue will not only require social, political and legal solutions, but also the help of UX designers.
How UX design can lessen misinformation
Once upon a time, UX designers may have believed they were responsible only for the design of a platform, not for the content that appeared within it. That no longer holds true. Instead, platform, content, and technology companies can now use UX design to detect and slow the spread of misinformation.
This prevention effort can include:
- Designing tools that determine the reliability of popular or trending content
- Creating workflows to provide citations or sources for content
- Designing features that allow users to see the trustworthiness of content
- Creating feedback processes that allow users to share concerns with the platform
While UX designers may not see themselves as arbiters of truth, they can help create tools that make it easier for Internet users to make informed, educated choices online.
UX design efforts against misinformation
UX designers have already begun the process of combating misinformation. For example, the Credibility Coalition, a research group that develops better ways to verify online information, hosts their own User Experience Working Group.
The group’s work includes analyzing existing tools to detect misinformation (including popular browser extensions) and studying the ways that designers use visual shorthand to display truthfulness (for example, PolitiFact’s famous “truth-o-meter”).
UX design doesn’t only include software or graphics. UX designer John Fallot explored the role that typography can play by inspiring trust among readers. He found that different families of fonts actually impacted the trustworthiness of content, a lesson he said could be applied to everything from news design to social media platforms.
In the United States, we saw a glaring example of poor UX design contributing to unintentional misinformation during the 2020 Iowa Caucuses, argues psychologist Ira Hyman. By relying on an untested vote-counting app, caucus organizers unwittingly spread false information—an important reminder that a lack of UX expertise can cause trouble, too.
The path ahead
While designers and platforms alike are making inroads in the fight against misinformation, fake content will always be shared online. Technology alone will not be able to fully resolve the issue of misinformation.
Nonetheless, UX designers have a responsibility to continue to create ways to identify fake content and increase awareness of this risk online. After all, a key part of creating a positive online user experience is facilitating trust and transparency, two areas where UX design can shine.