Multi-country study finds fact checks significantly reduce belief in misinformation

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  • A study found that fact-checking reduced misinformation on Covid-19.
  • South Africa was one of four counties surveyed on the impact of fact-checking.
  • Experts say that fact-checking helps people make more informed choices about their health.

A new multi-country study has found that fact-checking is an effective tool to combat misinformation across countries, cultures, and political environments.

The research published on 6 September in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed the effectiveness of fact-checking claims about various topics, including information on Covid-19 in Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United Kingdom (“The Global Effectiveness of Fact-Checking: Evidence from Simultaneous Experiments in Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, and the U.K.").

The researchers partnered with fact-checking organisations in these countries.

Fact-checking

The study enrolled 2 000 participants, who were assigned to view fact checks and were then queried about their factual beliefs. They were asked questions regarding Covid-19, local politics, crime and the economy during September and October 2020. Covid-19 and climate change beliefs were tested in all four countries. 

Some of the participants received only the misinformation, while others received the misinformation followed by corrections made by local fact-checking organisations in response to misinformation. They then rated to what extent they still believed the false information on a scale of one to five.

Researchers followed up with participants two weeks after their initial assessment to check whether they had changed their beliefs. 

Making informed choices 

The study findings show that fact-checking reduced belief in misinformation across all four countries. The results showed that fact-checks increased factual accuracy by 0.59 points on the five-point scale, while misinformation decreased factual accuracy by less than .07 points.

Misinformation on Covid-19 was found to have a lower accuracy score, and questions on the virus had the most prominent misinformation effects. However, fact-checking helped increase accuracy around the virus and pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, we saw bad information put lives at risk. This study shows the difference fact-checkers can make. Thanks to their work around the world, more people are able to recognise false claims and make informed decisions about their own health and communities,” said Will Moy, chief executive of the UK based Full Fact (an independent fact-checking organisation) in a press statement.

The research results show that the positive effects of fact-checking were still present two weeks after the participants took part in the fact-checking assessment.

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

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