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False beliefs resist online correction

Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:41 PM   |   Comments

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A person will often retain a false belief even if a correction to false information is instantly provided online, researchers at Ohio State University report.

Instant corrections to obviously false information seen on the Internet may not be effective at dispelling inaccurate beliefs, particularly among people who already want to believe the falsehood, the researchers said.

"Real-time corrections do have some positive effect, but it is mostly with people who were predisposed to reject the false claim anyway," lead author R. Kelly Garrett, a professor of communication, said.

"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."

As an example Garret cited the rumor that President Obama was not born in the United States, circulated on the Internet and widely believed during the past election season even though it was quickly and thoroughly debunked.

There are efforts underway to create systems that would alert users when they opened a webpage with a disputed claim, he said.

"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.

The results of this study cast doubt on the theory that people who believe false rumors need only to be educated about the truth to change their minds, Garret said.

"Humans aren't vessels into which you can just pour accurate information," he said. "Correcting misperceptions is really a persuasion task. You have to convince people that, while there are competing claims, one claim is clearly more accurate."

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