Have you ever wondered if all the fact-checking article and initiatives launched online actually had an impact on populations?

The Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences of the United States of America recently published a comparative study to examine fact-checking effectiveness from a cross-country perspective. The goal was to find out whether fact-checking could durably reduce belief in misinformation or not. This experiment was led by researchers Ethan Porter and Thomas Wood and their teams in four countries: Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom. All four of these nations had professional fact-checking organizations assisting with the work and a total of 2,000 citizens were recruited for the purpose of the study.

Here is how the study was conducted: researchers created a set of misinformation including two globally relevant information – one about climate change and one about the pandemic – and the rest of them in line with the prevailing local misinformation in each country – for example,  the percentage of South African’s budget that goes to salary, the public debt-to-GDP ratio in Argentina, or the levels of youth unemployment in Nigeria. The participants were then devided into three groups: the control group simply got an unrelated piece of misinformation, the second group got a misinformation widely circulating in their country as a factual statement and the third group got the misinformation and a more detailed fact-check of it. They were then asked to rate their belief in the misinformation on a five-point scale, from strongly think it’s true to strongly think it’s false.

In the end, fact-checking turned out to be highly effective across the different countries. While fact-checks significantly reduced belief in the false claims, the exposure to misinformation only minimally increased belief in the falsehoods. As explained by Africa Check, survey participants who were presented with fact-checks often retained factual information for some time and participants were still affected by the facts originally presented to them approximately two weeks after taking part in the initial experiment.

Nearly two years in the Covid-19 pandemic, this study reinforces the importance of the work done by fact-checkers around the world. Fact-checking doesn’t just help people know if something is correct or incorrect. It arms them with accurate, evidence-based information that they can rely on in the future.

Noko Makgato, Africa Check’s executive director

We can thus conclude that the work put into fighting for the truth is not in vain: fact-checking has a huge role to play in today’s society and can help maintaining our democracies. A way you can contribute in advocating for the facts is by making a donation.

Find the full study here.