Highlights and talking points: API’s fact-checking journalism research

FCP logoThe American Press Institute has conducted several studies through its multi-year project to research and enhance the practice of fact-checking and accountability journalism. Here are the highlights of the studies released in 2015.

 The Diffusion of Fact-Checking: Understanding the Growth of a Journalistic Innovation

Blog post summary

Authors: Lucas Graves, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College; Jason Reifler, University of Exeter

Highlights:

  • The number of fact-check stories in the U.S. news media increased by more than 300 percent from 2008 to 2012.
  • Newspapers that were told that fact-checking journalism is “a form of accountability journalism that the most effective reporters are using” increased their own production of fact-checking journalism or stories about fact-checking (as compared to a control group).
  • There was no significant difference in the number of stories produced by newspapers that were told that it was popular with readers, versus a control group.

Implications:

  • The fact-checking movement has much untapped potential: Substantial growth has occurred even though most news organizations do not offer a regular fact-checking feature. A large number of reporters and news organizations are receptive to taking up fact-checking, even if they are not practicing it already.
  • Efforts to promote fact checking with reporters should focus more on its relation to journalistic mission than its popularity. Different messages may be necessary to persuade publishers to provide the resources.

 

Fact-Checking on Twitter: An Examination of Campaign 2014

Blog post summary

Author: Andrew Guess

Highlights:

  • Approximately 69 percent of tweets about fact checks are positive or neutral.
  • Tweets containing incorrect claims outnumbered tweets trying to correct claims by more than 3 to 1.
  • Misinformation tapers off in time, and incorrect tweets vs. fact-checking tweets become more equal in number.
  • 22 percent of tweets expressed disapproval of the target of the fact check. The number of tweets expressing approval/support was negligible.

Implications:

  • Marketing of fact checks in general is needed to increase exposure to corrections.
  • Technology solutions to combating uneven ratio of inaccurate tweets-to-corrections need to be refined and developed.
  • Fighting misinformation needs to be incorporated into social media team duties (if available) and individual reporters.
  • Future research should address the amount of learning from fact-checking tweets.

 

 Identifying Substantive Policy Misperceptions in the American Public

Blog post summary

Authors: Emily Thorson, George Washington University

Highlights:

  • One-half to two-thirds of respondents held misperceptions about major U.S. public policy issues.
  • More than 67 percent tended to believe, for example, that China holds most of the U.S. debt; about 59 percent believe there’s no limit on welfare benefits.
  • Most respondents believe that it’s important for citizens to know about these public policy issues.
  • There was no significant difference between misperceptions held by Democrats and Republicans.
  • These misperceptions likely arise not from politicians’ deliberate misinformation but from the cognitive biases that people use to “fill in the blank” when they don’t know the answer.

Implications:

  • Knowing which issues confound readers gives guidance to journalists in selecting their fact-checking topics and confidence that their work is effective. Perhaps some fact-checking activity, moreover, should occur around public misperceptions rather than political misstatements.
  • Use of explainers/cards/formatted explanations along with interactives such as quizzes should be used to reach readers with basic misperceptions.

 

A Comparison of Correction Formats: The Effectiveness and Effects of Rating Scale versus Contextual Corrections on Misinformation

Blog post summary

Authors: Michelle Amazeen, Rider University; Emily Thorson, George Washington University; Ashley Muddiman, University of Wyoming; Lucas Graves, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Highlights:

  • More readers chose to read a fact check with a rating scale than without one.
  • Rating scales did not appear to improve learning in political fact checks, but showed increased learning in fact checks about non-political issues.
  • Fact-checks of inaccurate statements were less persuasive when the reader and the politician belonged to opposite political parties. Those readers tended to think the politician’s statement was false, even before reading the fact-check.

Implications:

  • Resource-strapped newsrooms tend to underplay primary elections and focus instead on general elections. But because corrections of inaccurate statements are most effective when dealing with misinformation from like-minded candidates, more political fact-checking should occur and may be more important during primaries.
  • While ratings scales do not increase individuals’ learning, adding them can increase readership.

 

Estimating Fact-Checking’s Effects: Evidence From a Long-Term Experiment During Campaign 2014

Blog post summary

Authors: Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College; Jason Reifler, University of Exeter

Highlights:

  • Fact checks increased readers’ knowledge on a subject by 11 percentage points. Fact-checks are even more effective among people who already have higher levels of political knowledge.
  • 8 in 10 people have a favorable view of fact checking; and for those who are more familiar with fact checking, the number rises to 9 in 10.
  • Republicans do not view fact checking as favorably as Democrats do, especially among people with high levels of political knowledge.
  • There is no consistent evidence that respondents learned more “belief-consistent facts” than facts that contradicted their viewpoints.

Implications:

  • News organizations need to review fact-checking procedures to ensure a fair process of selection and execution of fact checks and to prevent alienating a substantial group of readers – Republicans.
  • Because interest in fact-checking journalism tends to skew toward more educated members of the public, finding ways to reach the less well-informed citizen is crucial.

 

 ‘Fact-Check This’: How U.S. Politics Adapts to Media Scrutiny

Author: Mark Stencel

Highlights:

  • Fact checks have become new weapons on the political battlefield: politicians are using fact-checking findings as ammunition against opponents.
  • A review of remarks in the Congressional Record found 83 references to fact checkers — and only three challenged a fact checker’s findings. Senators and representatives from both parties cited fact checkers to reinforce their point or to undermine their opponents.
  • Politicians’ use of journalists’ fact-checks to challenge opponents or defend their own positions indicates they pay attention to fact checks.

Recommendations:

  • Journalists need to be vigilant about how their fact-checks are being used by politicians and campaigns and judge if they’re being used accurately. Continuous “weaponizing” of fact-checks may eventually undermine their value and integrity.
  • In general: fact checkers should reuse reporting when a claim comes up again; explore new forms of fact-checking stories to make their work more persuasive to broader audiences; and protect their credibility from political attack by avoiding matters of opinion.

Additional studies on fact-checking can be found on our resource page on the American Press Institute’s web site. For more information, contact Jane Elizabeth, The American Press Institute’s senior research project manager, jane.elizabeth@pressinstitute.org; 757-477-5953 (mobile).