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US Students “Easily Duped” by Native Ads

Alex Spencer

The example homepage shown to middle school students

The example homepage shown to middle school students

80 per cent of US students are unable to differentiate native advertising from editorial content, according to a study from Stanford university.

In the study, a group of middle school students (aged 11-13) were shown an example homepage from Slate with two different types of ads – traditional display banners and sponsored articles – and asked to identify the advertising content.

More than 75 per cent of students were able to correctly identify the banner ad, and identified a news story as editorial content.

However, an article marked ‘sponsored content’, was spotted by less than 20 per cent. Some students spotted that it was sponsored but didn’t grasp the implications of this, still believing that it was a news article.

“This suggests that many students have no idea what ‘sponsored content’ means,” the report argues. “This is something that must be explicitly taught as early as elementary school.”

The study stretched beyond advertising and this age group, looking at the issue of reliable online content more widely. Nine per cent of high school students (aged 14-18) and just seven per cent of university students were able to identify a webpage as a front for a lobbyist group.

“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word,” reads the report. “Bleak.

It continues: “When we began our work we had little sense of the depth of the problem. We even found ourselves rejecting ideas for tasks because we thought they would be too easy. Our first round of piloting shocked us into reality. Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.”