The Psychology of Fact-Checking – Scientific American

Distortions and outright lies by politicians and experts have become so widespread that major news outlets such as the Associated Press, CNN, BBC, Fox News, and Washington Post regularly assign journalists and fact-checkers to verify the demands made during blunt speeches and press briefings. The motivation to expose falsehoods and misleading statements taken out of context is commendable. But when it comes to complex reality, the problem is that people often see different things when they look at the same event, a phenomenon that is repeatedly documented by psychologists.

Laboratory studies show that when people watch a video of a group of protesters, they see a peaceful protest or a rioting mob blocking access to pedestrians, depending on their socio-political beliefs. The world outside the lab shows a similarly biased perception: 68 percent of Republicans, for example, view the recorded demonstrations in Portland, Ore., Kenosha, Wisc., And New York as riots, compared to only 30 percent of Democrats, according to a Fox News poll released in September. Journalists and fact-checkers are people who are subject to the same psychological prejudices as everyone else – and their analyzes of what ‘facts’ are are influenced by their own political and ideological values, leading to what psychologists call them. selective perception.

Think of the allegation that Joe Biden stated during an interview with progressive activist Ady Barkan that he wanted to repay the police. This claim has been removed by some journalists and fact checkers as out of context and consequently false (e.g. Politifact’s Jon Greenberg), and CNN’s Facts First argued that Biden denies favoring deflation in comments not included in the published interview with Barkan. Others, however, have argued that Biden’s statement about supporting the “transfer” of funds to other agencies is a clear recognition of his support for the reduced funding for the police.

Fox News’ Evie Fordham says, for example, that the transfer of police funds is the only context in which Biden’s’ yes, absolutely ‘answer to Barkan’s question can be understood, in her words:’ despite the fact that Barkan does not ‘ police “at the end of the question, the context of the original exchange made it clear that Barkan was talking about diverting police funding.”). The result is a massive disagreement, with many journalists and fact-checkers claiming that Biden’s critics have indeed ripped his statement out of context, and he did not intend to support a diversion of money away from law enforcement, as the fact-checkers Hope Yen at Associated Press and Jake Horton of the BBC argued, while CNN quoted a statement from Biden in early June saying it made sense for some local communities to reduce police funding. In examining the evidence called by each side, it is possible to make a case for both positions.

The same goes for the allegation that Trump said in 2017 after the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., That there are “good people” among protesters and counter-protesters, a statement widely interpreted by liberal fact-checkers and journalists as referring. to fine people among the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, but disputed by conservative journalists.

Even if the original facts can tip in the direction of the allegations of journalists and fact-checkers, it may be too ambiguous to justify the unambiguous headlines: (“AP Fact Check: Trump twists record; BLM is falsely accused”)

Decisions about facts have significant implications for debates about false news that cannot be underestimated. Researchers have studied the cognitive effects of misinformation, and their findings are relevant to current concerns about fake news and the limitations of fact-checking. Incorrect information can be treacherous; it can seep into the unconscious mind and influence beliefs and behavior long after we have forgotten the source of it or the evidence used to support it. Under laboratory conditions, a selection of objective facts and complete inventions can be presented, and researchers can then investigate the dissemination of incorrect information about these facts and whether and how this dissemination results in false beliefs.

Unlike a pristine laboratory environment, however, the world of politics is messy, and there can be deep differences of opinion about the facts, as the conflicting allegations above illustrate. When it comes to biased fact-checking on complex issues – which describes much of the fact-checking that takes place in the context of political news – the truth, as has been said, is often the subjective opinion of people with shared political views.

One path to a solution is ‘controversial fact checking’. Fact checks are often done by teams of two or more journalists rather than by one person. We suggest that political claims are still aggressively scrutinized, but by teams of individuals with divergent socio-political views; for example, by linking fact checkers from major liberal and conservative news sources. It will cost little, if any, cost. The media should abandon the pretext of fact-checkers of objectivity and political disinterest and rather acknowledge their socio-political tendencies in a way that NPR seeks to place pros and cons in political coverage.

Research emphasizes that the factual researchers’ personal biases influence both the choice of which statements to analyze and the determination of accuracy. Have diverse fact checkers work as members of an opposing team, such as two parties in arbitration. Fact-testers are people who live in the real world, rather than in a socio-political monastery. Let’s abandon the pretext of objectivity and design a system of controversial fact – checking that puts the evidence for competing claims first.

Exposure to contrasting views sometimes occurs when a counterclaim appears days or weeks later or an independent fact controller such as PolitiFact calls for withdrawal, but the key to better cognitive reasoning outcomes is that both parties’ claims appear simultaneously in the same report. This will minimize the creation of false beliefs arising from exposure to only one side. When controversial fact-checking leads to unresolved disagreements between team members, readers will be better able to judge how convincing the argument of each side is and come to a more informed conclusion than they would if only one side’s evidence were presented.

This would be a valuable antidote to the tendency of Americans to base their views solely on their sources. Such a controversial arrangement disputes the suspicion that there can be no doubt as to the validity of the fact-checkers ‘conclusions, as implied by CNN’s facts First feature:’ CNN holds elected officials and candidates accountable by pointing out what is true and what not, ‘as if the determination of the truth is somehow a psychologically simple process.

If the fact checkers of each side are checked by the fact checkers of the other side, it can lead to an infinite regression to an uncertain truth. But it is preferable to believing in a truth that may not exist. Controversial fact checkers will debate the same ‘evidence’ and ensure a balanced presentation of the facts. It cannot guarantee that fact checkers agree or that readers will see the truth. But it would reveal the sometimes cumbersome nature of the fact-checkers’ claims and the psychological context in which human cognition unfolds – and it would be a significant obstacle to the spread of false news and the creation of false beliefs among voters.