Expert Alert

The science of debunking misinformation

Pani Kendeou and Emily Vraga.

No matter the intent, misinformation can have significant impacts on individuals, groups and societies.

University of Minnesota Professor Panayiota Kendeou and Associate Professor Emily Vraga are available to comment about the danger of misinformation, how it spreads, and what can be done to debunk it. 

Panayiota Kendeou, Ph.D.
“Misinformation — around what is known about COVID-19, how to vote, or another topic entirely — can affect a person’s health, lead to confusion, or the perpetuation of falsehoods among a community. All of us can be misled. The more something is repeated, the more familiar it becomes and the more likely we are to believe it. 

“This is called the ‘illusory truth effect.’ Essentially, the more people who see or hear a piece of misinformation that isn’t challenged, the more likely that misinformation seems true. Often misinformation tugs at your emotions, grabs your attention, and is undeniably appealing. This causes it to spread faster, thereby becoming repetitious, and sticking in people’s thoughts and beliefs.

“If misinformation has already spread, individuals can try to debunk it. This strategy follows three steps by first explaining why the mistaken information was thought to be correct, then sharing why the information is wrong, and lastly explaining why the alternative is correct. While this can be challenging and time consuming, it can be an effective strategy in stopping misinformation in its tracks.”

Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou, Ph.D., is a professor and Guy Bond Chair in Reading at the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her recent work focuses on identifying, researching and implementing strategies that reduce the impact of misinformation. Kendeou is a co-author of The Debunking Handbook 2020, which provides information regarding the science of debunking for engaged citizens, policy makers, journalists, and other practitioners.

Emily Vraga, Ph.D.
“While fact-checking can help address misinformation, and even reduce a person’s belief in false or inaccurate information, misinformation can still influence people’s thinking even after it has been proven that the information is incorrect.

“Take the consumption of online content as an example. Simply warning someone that a piece of content might not be truthful has been shown to reduce the likelihood it will be shared. Additionally, if readers take specific strategies when reading social media content — such as thinking critically about the information provided, examining how plausible it is, and taking into consideration the reliability of sources — it can mitigate the spread of misinformation online.

“Additionally, we can all play a role in debunking misinformation on social media. If you are on Twitter, whether you are a user or an expert in the subject that is being disputed, your corrections can be an effective way to reduce misperceptions. This can be as simple as recommending related articles that contain a correction or pointing people to multiple trusted sources of information.” 

Emily Vraga, Ph.D., is the Don and Carole Larson Associate Professor in Health Communication in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on how individuals respond to news and information about contentious health, scientific and political issues in digital environments. Vraga is a co-author of The Debunking Handbook 2020, which provides information regarding the science of debunking for engaged citizens, policy makers, journalists, and other practitioners.

Download images of Panayiota Kendeou and Emily Vraga.

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Wed, 10/21/2020 - 09:34
The science of debunking misinformation
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities