NPR Plus is a digital fact-checking solution designed to attract younger listeners and help mitigate the spread of fake news

Context
5 week project
Fall 2016

Contributions
User Experience
UX Strategy
Content Strategy

Collaborators
Kosuke Futsukaichi
Sabrina Ng
Sonia Yau
Charmaine Wu

The project

NPR Plus

Understanding the re-emerging role of fact checking in the post-truth era

NPR Plus is a digital fact-checking solution that targets the source of fake news before it exponentially spreads to the general public on social media, in order to attract potential young listeners towards NPR’s digital touch points and to help mitigate the spread of fake news.

The Strategy

Internal Business Problem

NPR’s core business problem is their hesitancy to fully embrace the emerging technological innovations that are occurring within their field of public radio and in doing so - they have lagged behind their more innovative competitors in attracting young listeners.

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External Business Problem

The prevalent role that fake news played in the recent U.S. election has become an external threat to NPR’s brand values and basic principles of journalism - which is their underlying belief that “ facts exist and that they matter. The central job of journalism is to establish the facts and share them as widely as we can."

“The epidemic of malicious fake news and fake propaganda that flooded social media over the past year, it's now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences”

Hilary Clinton (2016)

A Synthesized Opening

While evaluating the internal business problem and the external social problem, we discovered an opportunity to intervene by combining the two problems into an opening. NPR can leverage the external social problem it faces as an opportunity to innovate and develop a digital solution, that helps individuals of all ages, including young adults,  in differentiating between fake and credible news - in doing so, we can help contribute to the social need to  mitigate fake news and help NPR attract potential new young listeners.

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User Research

Retracing the Fake News Journey

Understanding how fake news is spread

The New York Times conducted and published a case study of how a factually incorrect tweet ultimately became viral. After analyzing the article, we broke down the fake news journey into four distinct steps.

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Through this analysis, we discovered that the most effective point of intervention to mitigate the spread of fake news is right after the initial engagement. It would be unfeasible to intervene when fake news is originally created, due to the vast of amount fake news that is constantly being published, and the inability to evaluate whether or not a specific false claim will ever gain public traction. ​​​​​​​

Furthermore, it is critically important that the intervention occurs before popular news sources and politicians begin to share the fake news. As seen in the New York Times case study by the time the fake news has developed momentum through exponential engagement, it is almost impossible to mitigate its spread.

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Reducing Cognitive Overhead

In order to increase the perceived value of fact-checking, and to create a more engaging experience for our first demographic, we focused on reducing the cognitive overhead within every step of the journey framework. For our second demographic, in order to convince them of NPR’s non-partisan credibility, we focused on reinforcing NPR's brand value of objective tone throughout the experience.​​​​​​​

Furthermore, to mitigate fake news, we aim to eventually reach the second group of extreme users, by empowering the first group to become advocates, and reach the extreme users in places they dwell, such as through sharing on social media.

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Final Iteration

The Execution

Creating the experience for NPR Plus

By unifying NPR’s existing digital offerings into a comprehensive solution, we can reduce cognitive overhead by streamlining functions, and bring more traffic to existing digital products that do already provide value - such as NPR ONE’s podcasting curation function.

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Annotation Interaction

Navigating Through Annotations

Instead of reading a content-heavy article, users can navigate the fake news article in question through annotations. By offering the option to add each annotated audio segments to their queue, users can listen through the annotated sections continuously like a playlist.

With NPR's non-partisan standpoint, the tone of each annotations provided by NPR editors were a crucial factor to spread factually correct information. These annotated sections allowed us to reduce cognitive overhead by not having to read lengthy articles, and improve NPR's credibility, as people are more likely to trust individual experts rather than institutions.

Recommendations

Value of Discovery & Curation

Through recommending articles and curating podcasts from NPR's existing archives, we can give users the opportunity to explore relevant content and gain a more in-depth understanding of related topic. Furthermore,  this streamlines functions across all of NPR's digital offerings, thus creating a more holistic experience.

Sharing Interaction

Evoking Emotion with the Call to Action

We emphasized the call to action by visually presenting the spread of fake news in comparison to NPR's fact checked piece. With this, we hope to increase the perceived value of sharing by evoking an emotional response from users, thus encouraging them to share the content onto social media platforms.

Reflection

Reflections on NPR Plus

Through this experience I learnt that, regardless of the type of project I am working on, it is always possible to provide meaningful value for people, even when the objective at times is primarily on improving a brand or business. Designing value for businesses, social problems, and people are not mutually exclusive. But rather, they are interweaving entities that should be simultaneously considered and designed for. Ultimately, I learnt that it is through solving human-centric problems that designers can provide value for business orientated goals. And as social issues like fake news becomes more prominent within the digital realm, it is pertinent that I remind myself of the responsibilities I have as an aspiring designer to invoke change for the betterment of culturally relevant problems and for the people who are affected by them.

A one paragraph reflection is incapable of expressing the full range of valuable lessons that I have learnt from this project about user experience design and fake news. Therefore,  I have written a long-form reflection that I have posted on Medium called Nobody Really Cares About Fake News. Feel free to check it out.

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Michael Lo — Digital Product Designer

Open to new opportunities
vvichael@gmail.com

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