December 14, 2020

Update: In April 2022, Scientific Reports published the Stanford Social Media Lab study of the MediaWise for Seniors online course: “A digital media literacy intervention for older adults improves resilience to fake news.”

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2020) – The Poynter Institute’s digital media literacy program for older adults, MediaWise for Seniors, helps participants identify online disinformation and misinformation, according to a study conducted by the Stanford Social Media Lab at Stanford University.

Research took place in the two months prior to the election on 145 participants of the Poynter MediaWise for Seniors self-directed fact-checking course. Stanford intends to publish the research and seek peer review in early 2021.

Key findings from the study include:

  • 69.9% — How often MediaWise course enrollees researched headlines to check for accuracy (compared to 3% of the time prior to taking the course)
  • 84.9% —  How often MediaWise course enrollees accurately classified stories as true or false after taking the course
  • 21.6% — Percentage point improvement in accuracy compared to before the seniors took the course. The control group showed no significant improvement over the same timeframe.
  • Improvement in accuracy holds regardless of political ideology

Seniors in the control group — which did not take the course — did not show a significant change in the rate of researching stories. The improvement for the MediaWise students is statistically significant even when researchers control for students’ political ideology, which was measured from very liberal to very conservative.

MediaWise is the Poynter Institute’s digital media literacy program teaching Americans of all ages how to sort fact from fiction online. Launched in 2018, the MediaWise program’s tips, training and fact checks have been viewed more than 44 million times on social media.

Poynter partnered with the Stanford Social Media Lab to determine the effectiveness of its media literacy training for older Americans. The Stanford Social Media Lab is dedicated to understanding psychological and interpersonal processes on social media. The research was conducted by Jeff Hancock, Ph.D., Professor of Communication and founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab and Ryan Moore, doctoral student in Communication at Stanford University.

“The results from this study are heartening. With this relatively brief intervention, seniors showed that they can substantially improve their ability to discern fake news from real,” said Hancock. “By learning just a few key digital literacy strategies the data suggest that seniors can develop the skills they need to become confident consumers of news in the social media age, and help us overcome the crisis of disinformation.”

“Stanford Social Media Lab’s research confirms what we have heard anecdotally from many program participants in the past — that MediaWise training works,” said Katy Byron, Editor & Program Manager of the MediaWise project at Poynter. “I believe the MediaWise training ‘secret sauce’ — teaching people how to spot mis- and disinformation using real-life examples of inaccurate information that has gone viral on social media platforms — is central to the effectiveness of our training and courses.”

“This research proves to me that critical thinking in the context of social media online is a skill anyone can learn at any age,” said Alex Mahadevan, who runs the MediaWise for Seniors program and led development of the curriculum. “More research is needed across our program and the media literacy and fact-checking industry at large, but I’m happy we were able to contribute to some early findings that our peers can learn from and will help inform our future program plans as well.”

Said Byron: “Disinformation online is a problem that is not going away, it’s actually growing and getting worse with the rise in vaccine misinformation and distrust online; so it’s reassuring to know that our methods for teaching are effective and we are on the right path. When people know how to identify the facts online, that makes the country stronger and our democracy healthier.”

Poynter’s MediaWise for Seniors live training session started Dec. 7, and the self-directed fact-checking course that the Stanford Social Media Lab studied is available online with post-election updates and a heavy focus on coronavirus misinformation training.

The Stanford Social Media Lab research findings in this story are yet to be published and are currently under peer review. While the study does indicate a brief disinformation detection program can significantly improve older adults’ ability to identify disinformation online, the program will need to be scaled so researchers can study a larger sample that’s more representative of the U.S. population.

MediaWise is seeking additional funding to support the expansion of its media literacy programs. Click here for a link to the donation center for MediaWise, or email for more information about how to support the effort.

The MediaWise for Seniors program and the self-directed course were created with support from Facebook. Thanks to Facebook’s investment, 2,422 people were able to take the self-directed course free of charge. The 145 enrollees in the MediaWise course who participated in the Stanford Social Media Lab study did not receive compensation for participating in the study.

To learn more about MediaWise for Seniors and other MediaWise programs, please visit

Disclosure: Poynter made a charitable donation to Stanford Social Media Lab in 2020. While portions of that contribution paid for this study, the gift funding was in no way conditional upon study results.

About The Poynter Institute

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a global leader in journalism education and a strategy center that stands for uncompromising excellence in journalism, media and 21st-century public discourse. Poynter faculty teach seminars and workshops at the Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and at newsrooms, conferences and organizations around the world. Its e-learning division, News University, offers the world’s largest online journalism curriculum, with hundreds of interactive courses and tens of thousands of registered international users. The Institute’s website produces 24-hour coverage about media, ethics, technology and the business of news. Poynter is the home of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, the International Fact-Checking Network and MediaWise, a digital information literacy project for young people, first-time voters and senior citizens. The world’s top journalists and media innovators rely on Poynter to learn and teach new generations of reporters, storytellers, media inventors, designers, visual journalists, documentarians and broadcasters. This work builds public awareness about journalism, media, the First Amendment and discourse that serves democracy and the public good.

About MediaWise

MediaWise is a nonpartisan, nonprofit digital media literacy initiative led by The Poynter Institute: Its mission is to teach Americans of all ages how to sort fact from fiction online. MediaWise content has been viewed more than 44 million times by more than 20 million people since the project launched in 2018. The MediaWise program teaches people through in-person and virtual training events, online educational videos, fact-checking content reported by its Teen Fact-Checking Network, and its MediaWise Ambassador program — a group of prominent journalists and influencers who help promote the MediaWise mission. In 2020, Poynter launched the MediaWise Voter Project (#MVP2020) to teach first-time voters how to find reliable information online about the U.S. presidential election, a new initiative supported by Facebook. MediaWise for Seniors was announced in June, 2020 to bring MediaWise tips to the 50+ population in advance of the general election. MediaWise for Seniors has a program funded by AARP to provide resources to their membership and a program funded by Facebook bringing virtual training and a social media awareness campaign to the senior population. The foundation of MediaWise was created with support from as part of Google News Initiative. Learn more at

Tina Dyakon
Director of marketing


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