To counteract misinformation, fact-checking works. This is according to a new study that looked at how effective the employment of fact-checking is in counteracting fake news. Interestingly, fact-checking is very effective at reducing false beliefs with no suggestion it backfires, making people more entrenched in their beliefs.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted fact-checking experiments simultaneously in four countries: Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, and found that fact-checking worked to reduce false beliefs in all four, and the effects can last for up to two weeks. Previous studies have shown that the approach is effective in single countries, but there was no data on a more global approach, until now.
The team collaborated with the International Fact-Checking Network – an organization that promotes nonpartisan and transparent fact-checking – working with specific fact-checking organizations in each country.
Around 2,000 participants in each country were interviewed between September and October 2020 on local politics, crime, and the economy, plus questions related to climate change and the new coronavirus. Each individual was given five statements unique to each country plus the two global ones.
They were divided into three groups. The first only got the misinformation. The second group got the misinformation and then the fact-checks, and the third didn’t receive either misinformation or corrective statements. Each participant then had to rate between 1 and 5 how much they believed the statements to be true. Fact-checking increased the factual accuracy by 0.59 points on that scale, but misinformation only decreased accuracy by 0.07 points.
"Misinformation is far less persuasive than corrective information, by and large," Thomas Wood, assistant professor of political science at the Ohio State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The researchers found that after two weeks, accuracy stayed high in those that had received fact-checking information. Not surprisingly, the more people are exposed to certain issues the better they are at dealing with misinformation. Falsehoods about climate change had little effect on people's accuracy on the issue, but falsehoods about COVID-19 had the largest misinformation effects in the study. That said fact-checking helped boost the accuracy even on this issue.
It's also important to know that people don’t appear (in general) to dig their heels in when exposed to fact-checking, the authors note. Fact-checking is not making the misinformation problem worse.
"When we started doing misinformation work about five years ago, it was the consensus that correcting misinformation wasn't just ineffective, but that it was aggravating the problem and making people more entrenched in their false beliefs," Wood said. "We found no evidence of that in these four countries. What we did find was that fact-checking can be a very effective tool against misinformation."