The global effectiveness of fact-checking: Evidence from simultaneous experiments in Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United Kingdom

September 14, 2021

PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Little evidence exists on the global effectiveness, or lack thereof, of potential solutions to misinformation. We conducted simultaneous experiments in four countries to investigate the extent to which fact-checking can reduce false beliefs. Fact-checks reduced false beliefs in all countries, with most effects detectable more than 2 wk later and with surprisingly little variation by country. Our evidence underscores that fact-checking can serve as a pivotal tool in the fight against misinformation.

The spread of misinformation is a global phenomenon, with implications for elections, state-sanctioned violence, and health outcomes. Yet, even though scholars have investigated the capacity of fact-checking to reduce belief in misinformation, little evidence exists on the global effectiveness of this approach. We describe fact-checking experiments conducted simultaneously in Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, in which we studied whether fact-checking can durably reduce belief in misinformation. In total, we evaluated 22 fact-checks, including two that were tested in all four countries. Fact-checking reduced belief in misinformation, with most effects still apparent more than 2 wk later. A meta-analytic procedure indicates that fact-checks reduced belief in misinformation by at least 0.59 points on a 5-point scale. Exposure to misinformation, however, only increased false beliefs by less than 0.07 points on the same scale. Across continents, fact-checks reduce belief in misinformation, often durably so.

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