This summary is presented by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center.

Key Findings

  • Communications correcting non-political misinformation are more effective when they include a graphic that easily conveys that a claim is misleading, such as a scale or meter indicating the degree of accuracy.
  • Corrections appear less effective for issues, like politics, that are deeply rooted in people’s identities. In these instances, including graphics may not have an impact since people are motivated to process of the information.

Implications for Public Relations
Public relations professionals should add graphics like a visual rating scale to communications designed to fact-check ambiguous and potentially misleading claims.

A small graphic that communicates that a claim is misleading can enhance the impact of fact-checking and corrections of misinformation. Public relations professionals should include graphics, like the image of a red light indicating misinformation, when issuing corrections because they make it easy to understand at a glance. This strategy is especially applicable for consumer communication and other areas where people aren’t as emotionally involved. In these cases, they often rely on quick judgements informed by mental shortcuts. Corrections may be less effective for political misinformation if people feel emotionally involved and motivated to process all the information instead.

Fact-checking has grown rapidly in recent years in response to the growing problem of misinformation. Fact-checks evaluate claims and present people with an analysis of the claims’ accuracy. When confronting potentially ambiguous information, people can use fact-checks to determine if they should believe in it. In cases where misperceptions have already been established, fact-checks can correct them by identifying the false claim and providing accurate information.

Amazeen and colleagues investigated the impact of different presentations on the effectiveness of fact-checks to correct misperceptions, specifically the inclusion of a graphic that summarizes the accuracy. Some fact-checking organizations use visual rating scales to indicate how accurate a statement or story is.

The researchers presented participants with misleading political and non-political claims and then corrections that debunked them. The corrections stated the claim and explained why it was untrue. Some corrections included a visual rating scale that highlighted the claim was false.  The results showed that the fact-checks with the visual scales led to more accurate non-political beliefs and are in line with other research showing that graphical information is more accessible than text. The visual scale provided an easy cue for participants to use to evaluate the claim.

For political misinformation, political partisanship influenced whether or not the corrections had an effect. Corrections that indicated that a politician from an opposing political party lied did not appear to have an effect, likely because participants already thought the politician was lying to begin with. In other words, they didn’t believe the misinformation in the first place, so presenting a correction confirmed their beliefs. Corrections to misinformation shared by a politician from the one’s own political party were still effective, even if it meant that the politician they support lied. The inclusion of a visual scale had no impact. Political claims often feel more personal because they relate to partisanship, which is a central part of many people’s identities. As a result, people will be more careful and motivated to process the available information.

Generally, corrections with the visual scales were preferred over the versions without them. Together, these findings suggest that visual scales are a welcome addition to fact-checks, which are effective, especially for tackling misinformation that isn’t deeply tied to identity.

Amazeen, M. A., Thorson, E., Muddiman, A., & Graves, L. (2018). Correcting political and consumer misperceptions: The effectiveness and effects of rating scale versus contextual correction formats. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 95(1), 28-48.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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