Fact-Checks On Covid-19 Misperceptions Are Effective Initially
As the Covid-19 pandemic persists, misinformation continues to circulate widely. Journalists and public health officials continue to struggle to debunk these false claims, an especially challenging task in the US where Covid-19 has become a highly polarizing issue. But are the efforts successful?
According o a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour, fact checks can successfully reduce misperceptions about Covid-19 immediately after people read them but do not have lasting effects over time.
During the study, respondents from the US, Great Britain and Canada were asked to rate the perceived accuracy of 4 claims on Covid-19 that have been debunked by scientific and public health authorities. The research team then compared belief in the claims between respondents who were shown the fact checks and those who weren't.
Regardless of when the surveys were administered, the results were the same: misperceptions about Covid-19 immediately decreased in all three countries immediately after the fact check was shown to them. Moreover, "the fact checks were most effective among people who are more vulnerable to misperceptions of Covid-19 at bassline," says Brendan Nyhan, the James O. Freedman Presidential Professor in the department of government at Dartmouth, including supporters of conservative leaders, those with high conspiracy predispositions, and those with low trust in health institutions.
However, these effects did not persist over time in follow-up surveys conducted in the US and Great Britain.
The study is the first to estimate the effects of fact checks on Covid-19 misperceptions over time and across countries. The results provide evidence that Covid-19 fact checks can be effective but that frequent exposure is necessary for addressing misinformation during the pandemic.