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 False Beliefs Persist, Even After Instant Online Corrections

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Date posted: 28/01/2013

It seems like a great idea: Provide instant corrections to web-surfers when they run across obviously false information on the Internet.

But a new study suggests that this type of tool may not be a panacea for dispelling inaccurate beliefs, particularly among people who already want to believe the falsehood.

“Real-time corrections do have some positive effect, but it is mostly with people who were predisposed to reject the false claim anyway,” said R. Kelly Garrett, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

“The problem with trying to correct false information is that some people want to believe it, and simply telling them it is false won’t convince them.”

For example, the rumor that President Obama was not born in the United States was widely believed during the past election season, even though it was thoroughly debunked.

The prospect of correcting falsehoods like this online before they have a chance to spread widely has obvious appeal, Garrett said.

In fact, it has already been attempted: A team from Intel and the University of California, Berkeley, developed Dispute Finder, a plug-in for web browsers that was released in 2009 and would alert users when they opened a webpage with a disputed claim. That project has ended, but Garrett said similar efforts are under way.

“Although the average news user hasn’t encountered real-time correction software yet, it is in the works and I suspect it will see more widespread use soon,” he said.

But will it work? In order to find out, Garrett conducted a study with Brian Weeks, a graduate student in communication at Ohio State. Their study (available here), which they will present Feb. 26 in Austin, Texas, appears in the 2013 Proceedings of the Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing conference.

Participants in the study were a diverse group of 574 adults from across the country who participated online.

The experiment was designed to see what would happen when participants read false statements copied from a “political blog” (actually text prepared by the researchers) about the issue of electronic health records.

While some of the information, collected from news stories and government sources, was correct, the researchers also inserted several false statements about who was allowed access to these records. For instance, the message falsely claimed that hospital administrators, health insurance companies and even government officials had unrestricted access to people’s electronic health records.

The participants were divided into three groups - some were presented with an immediate correction, saying that FactCheck.org, an independent fact-checking organization, had concluded this blog post contained factual errors. Inaccurate statements were italicized, enclosed in brackets and displayed in red, and a detailed correction appeared at the bottom of the page.

Others read the blog post with the errors, followed by completing an unrelated three-minute task, and then were presented with the exact same correction.

See the full Story via external site: researchnews.osu.edu

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