Read: Misinformation and Its Correction
4 June 2020
Public Engagement - report
An article reviewing what we know about misinformation's origins, how we process information, and why it's so tricky to tackle misinformation. It provides some simple practical recommendations for anyone interested in understanding more to improve their practise.
I've recently found myself with a bit of additional time whilst I await the fog to clear on various uncertainties so I can get stuck into making things happen (and yes maybe a bit of procrastination from very boring tasks), so to feel more productive than just twiddling my thumbs, I decided to try and attack my ever burgeoning 'things to read' file on my laptop.
Amongst many interesting titles, this one jumped out as being quite salient at the moment: Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing (Lewandowsky et al., 2012).
Now, I'm no psychologist so I'm not equipped to be adding my own assessment of the literature here, so I'm just repeating, in summary, some of the points I found of interest, but ultimately I encourage you to go read it if you're at all interested in this subject - which many scientists are!
The article is a literature review of various studies from psychology, covering how misinformation originates and spreads, the impacts it has on society, what processes are going on in peoples' heads that affects the influence of misinformation - including why it sticks, before looking at what we know (or maybe knew, given it was published in 2012) about effective ways to tackle or correct misinformation.
And it does all this using examples and clear explanations, that I followed pretty easily (despite having last studied psychology as a Higher in 2003).
What I think will be of most interest and of most use is that they provide a series of short recommendations for anyone who is wanting to attempt to correct misinformation.
The main things I took away are that there can be a lot of backfire effects from trying to correct misinformation, so it's very important to take your time and think carefully about crafting any attempts to debunk misinformation, not just about what you say, but also how you say it.
The whole section on how to try and understand what's going on in individuals heads was really interesting - how the default under social norms is to accept information received as true, how the ease, or not, of processing information can make people more likely to accept it as true - even really simple things such as clear fonts or rhyme being used.
Additionally, once misinformation is out there in the first place, it can be extremely difficult to tackle after-the-fact, and the sheer mention of the misinformation (such as when doing a fact vs myth style communication) can actually lead to people recalling the misinformation more, just through simple repetition.
They also talk fairly extensively about the role of an audience's worldview has, and how anything that threatens that can lead to people becoming more entrenched in their beliefs or being resistant to attempts to correct misinformation.
Thankfully, some of ways of tackling misinformation are linked to what makes good science communication in the first place, such as telling a good, clear story, and ensuring your communication is clear and concise.
Given all of this, it's always been my opinion that more often than not, if you can't engage in a prolonged and genuine dialogue with people with (entrenched) differing views and beliefs, then your best bet is to aim to build the resilience (and scepticism?) of everyone else against damaging misinformation.
In any case, they offer up some practical tips. So I highly recommend reading the article, and offer up their recommendations here:
Full citation: Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K. H., Seifert, C. M., Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3), 106–131. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612451018
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