Fighting fake news is tough and it is no use simply telling people they have their facts wrong. But if you provide a detailed counter-message with new information and get your audience to help develop a new narrative – the effects of intentionally misleading misinformation can be reduced, suggests new research. A detailed counter-message is better at persuading people to change their minds than merely labelling misinformation as wrong. But even after a detailed debunking, misinformation still can be hard to completely eliminate, said the study published in the journal Psychological Science.
“The effect of misinformation is very strong,” said study co-author Dolores Albarracin, Professor of Psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US. “When you present it, people buy it. But we also asked whether we are able to correct for misinformation. Generally, some degree of correction is possible but it is very difficult to completely correct,” Albarracin said. The teams sought “to understand the factors underlying effective messages to counter attitudes and beliefs based on misinformation”.
To do that, they examined 20 experiments in eight research reports involving 6,878 participants and 52 independent samples.
They analysed studies, published from 1994 to 2015, focused on false social and political news accounts.The researchers coded and analysed the results of the experiments across the different studies and measured the effect of presenting misinformation, the effect of debunking, and the persistence of misinformation. “This analysis provides evidence of the value of the extended correction of misinformation,” said co-author Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at University of Pennsylvania.
“Simply stating that something is false or providing a brief explanation is largely ineffective,” Jamieson, co-founder of APPC project FactCheck.org, which aims to reduce the level of deception in politics and science, said. “The more detailed the debunking message, the higher the debunking effect. But misinformation can’t easily be undone by debunking. The formula that undercuts the persistence of misinformation seems to be in the audience,” lead author Man-pui Sally Chan from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said.
The analysis also showed that debunking is more effective – and misinformation is less persistent – when an audience develops an explanation for the corrected information. For news outlets, involving an audience in correcting information could mean encouraging commentary, asking questions, or offering moderated reader chats – in short, mechanisms to promote thoughtful participation.