If you read something on the Internet, it must be true, right? Sadly, that’s not the case — unless you’re talking about this blog, where we guarantee we’ll get everything 100% right all the time* — and occasionally, misinformation slips past the armed guards of the world’s networks and is posted to the Internet as fact — take the tired “President Obama was born in Kenya” myth, for example. That’s not great news on its own, but there’s now worse news to accompany it. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University shows that even instant corrections of misinformation that are built into websites don’t much help straighten things out — especially if the person reading it already wants to believe the lie.
The OSU study showed almost 600 participants from a variety of backgrounds an article written by researchers that purported to be from a political blog, and contained some facts and a number of inaccuracies. While some people were shown a real time correction of the misinformation that said the inaccuracies had been noted by an independent fact checking organization, others had to wait a while for their corrections. While instant corrections were a little more effective in making people aware that what they were reading wasn’t the whole truth, they also had an unexpected side effect — people who were already biased to wanting to believe the inaccuracies came out more convinced they were true after the instant correction.
The mechanism seems to be a sort of knee-jerk defense mode that found people questioning the credibility of the source when it instantly corrected something they were inclined to agree with. Lead researcher Kelly Garrett say this shows that people have to be careful about how they try and correct misinformation, as they could end up making incorrect assumptions stronger:
“Correcting misperceptions is really a persuasion task. You have to convince people that, while there are competing claims, one claim is clearly more accurate.”
It may be more helpful, says Garrett to try and correct people’s misinformed beliefs after a brief delay, when they are less prone to be defensive about their feelings on a fact — or fact-like object that isn’t really true, as the case may be.
*Not a guarantee, but we do try
- Great, now we’re teaching robots to be liars, too
- Sometimes, advertisers may also tell lies. Say it ain’t so!
- You can definitely trust all of these facts about Morgan Freeman, though