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Why facts can’t spoil a good online rumor

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An OSU researcher has been looking into why some people’s faith in the veracity of false information is so stubbornly resistant to the facts.

A new study suggests that even correcting misinformation on the Internet in real time isn’t enough to dispel inaccurate beliefs, particularly among people who already want to believe the falsehood.

“Real-time corrections do have some positive effect, but it is mostly with people who were predisposed to reject the false claim anyway…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,” said R. Kelly Garrett, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

Kelly cites as an example the persistent rumor that President Obama was not born in the United States, widely believed during the past election season even though it was thoroughly debunked.

Attempts have already been made to establish systems for correcting falsehoods online before they have a chance to spread widely, Garrett said.

A team from Intel and the University of California, Berkeley, developed Dispute Finder, a plug-in for web browsers that was released in 2009 and would alert users when they opened a webpage with a disputed claim.

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

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