6. Reduce partisan and ideological cues. The context in which misperceptions are addressed seems to play an important role in the effectiveness of corrections. When corrections are embedded in media coverage of partisan politics, they are frequently ineffective and may even make matters worse. People may rely on partisan cues within the story and ignore or reject the content of the correction. As a result, framing corrections around misleading statements by prominent political figures (as most news coverage and fact-checking sites do) may be an ineffective means of reducing misperceptions. There is an obvious tension here with other journalistic imperatives: corrections that do not identify a source are not only less newsworthy but may be more difficult for individuals to interpret and apply when they are later exposed to a misleading claim. But at a minimum, presenting information in an authoritative manner with a minimum of partisan cues is likely to be more effective than the “Democrats say X, Republicans say Y” frames that are typically used.
7. Use credible sources; don’t give credence to the fringe. Sources matter when people evaluate factual claims. Corrections that come from unexpected or credible sources are likely to be more effective than those from the media or partisan sources. Experts who speak out against a misperception held by their ideological or partisan allies can be especially persuasive. For instance, an ABCNews.com story on the “death panels” myth stated that “even [health care experts] who do not support the version of the health care reform bill now being discussed… note that these accusations are shocking, inflammatory and incorrect.” On the other hand, including pseudo-expert dissenters in stories on topics about which there is a scientific consensus can misinform the public about the available evidence and the views of the scientific community.
8. Use graphics where appropriate. When quantitative information can be presented in graphical form, it should be. Graphics appear to be a more effective means of correcting misinformation (PDF), especially about trends that may be the subject of misperceptions (the state of the economy under a given president, the number of casualties in a war, etc.).
9. Beware selective exposure. In a media marketplace with many options, people can make choices about the content they consume. In the political realm, they may seek out news outlets that are consistent with their ideological or partisan views (PDF). This problem of selective exposure can limit the effectiveness of corrections because media outlets may be less likely to correct misperceptions that are disproportionately held by their viewers or readers. In addition, journalists should be aware of the ways in which selective exposure can hinder the effectiveness of a given outlet’s efforts to correct misperceptions. People may tend to select the stories that reinforce their views and avoid those that make them uncomfortable. This is a daunting challenge. But news organizations that are committed to stemming the flow of misinformation can begin to meet it by investigating ways to encourage readers to be exposed to a more diverse stream of news.
Of course, while these steps could help improve reporting about disputed facts, there is no “solution” to the problem of misperceptions, which are the inevitable result of the limitations of human information processing and the demand for misinformation in a polarized society. It is therefore worth considering whether we can instead affect the supply of misinformation at the elite level—that is, among the politicians and pundits who seek personal and ideological gain by starting or spreading false memes.
For instance, it may be more effective (PDF) to “name and shame” dishonest politicians and pundits who promote misinformation. Doing so could increase the reputational costs of false claims and thereby help change future elite behavior. These effects will be compounded if corrections help to create an elite consensus rejecting a particularly notorious false claim, which can shape public opinion and create pressure on individual political figures to not make false statements. Even if corrections are sometimes ineffective at the individual level, fact-checking efforts that change the balance of elite beliefs on an issue can have powerful effects.