Fake news has become part of our daily lives. It has become a real ordeal to sort through information and distinguish between the real and the fake. What is the right way to deal with fake news? A recent study published in the International Journal of Psychology sought to examine the influence of fake news in terms of valence even after debunking.
Are you fully aware of the influence fake news can have on your judgment? Are you really immune to fake news because you regularly read articles that are fact-checked? In other words how effective are these articles in influencing our reasoning and beliefs? This is a crucial question that has been explored for some time in the communication and social psychology literature. A recent study published in the International Journal of Psychology attempted to answer this question by adding a variable to the equation: the valence of a piece of information, or in other words, its positive or negative nature.
A study that is consistent with previous research
The question posed by the study about the asymmetry between facts of different valence (positive or negative news) is not new. The experiment is part of an attempt to replicate previous studies. Some studies suggest that there is a more significant influence of negative information than of positive information after correction. The influence that fake news continues to exert on our evaluations and representations, even after correction, has a name: the continuing influence effect. It is accepted in the literature that fake news can influence us to a greater or lesser extent once we have been exposed to it, even if we correct it later.
The power of negative fake news
In this study, the researchers invented a fictitious situation, namely about a German hospital. In the first experiment, the hospital was presented to participants as if it had received an award because it had the lowest mortality rate in Europe. In the second experiment, researchers instead painted the hospital negatively because it had the highest mortality rate in Europe. In each experiment, one part of the group was corrected while the other part was not. The authors found a persistent influence of negative news ratings after the correction. On the other hand, they noted a backfire effect associated with the positive news correction. However, the news correction in both scenarios works quite well compared to a situation without intervention.
While the backfiring may have cast doubt on the practice of fact-checking, the lack of replications showing its existence makes the practice all the more interesting: The main lesson we can draw from recent work on fake news is that corrections work, even if their effect is often modest. But fact-checking cannot be removed from the context in which it takes place. Who is behind it? How does it take place? When fact-checking is used heavily and inappropriately against fake news, it can sometimes backfire.
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