Characteristics of the correction
A long literature in communication has examined the power of source credibility, including both perceived expertise and trustworthiness, in shaping whether or not a given piece of information is accepted (Page et al. 1987; Eagly and Chaiken 1993; Gilbert et al. 1998). This literature has direct implications for how people process both misinformation and corrections. The source of a piece of information — whether it is a politician, a fact-checking organisation, or a friend — affects whether people believe it. The more credible they deem the source, the more likely they are to accept the information.
Perceptions of source credibility are shaped by a person’s pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, with congenial sources deemed more credible and thus more persuasive. For example, people may find a person who shares more cultural values with them (e.g. hierarchy-egalitarianism, individualism-communitarianism) more credible and more persuasive in their arguments, either pro- or anti-vaccination (Kahan et al. 2010). Guillory and Geraci (2013) offered direct evidence for how source congeniality shaped the effectiveness of corrections. They found that corrections of fictitious misinformation about political bribery were more effective when coming from sources that participants had previously deemed credible. In particular, the perceived trustworthiness of the source sufficiently reduced reliance on misinformation while perceived expertise was less powerful (Guillory and Geraci 2013).
The effect of source congeniality transfers to real-world social contexts too: Twitter users are more likely to accept corrections coming from users with whom they have a mutual followerfollowing relationship than corrections coming from strangers (Margolin et al. 2018). However, while congeniality matters, people may also take into account the motives of the corrector: for example, a Republican correcting a fellow Republican may be seen as an especially credible source because she appears to be acting in a way that runs counter to her own interests (Berinsky 2017). Finally, while this chapter is focused mainly on corrections, it is worth noting that the original source of the misinformation can be as important, if not more important, than the source of the correction. In an experiment examining false statements made by American presidential candidate Donald Trump, Swire et al. (2017) found that while the source of the correction had little impact on the correction’s effectiveness, the source of the misinformation mattered more.
Since one of the major sources of corrections is fact-checking organisations, it is important to understand both when and why these organisations are deemed credible. Whether or not the practices of fact-checking organisations are reliable and unbiased has been questioned in academic research and public discourse (Nieminen and Rapeli 2019). Shin and Thorson (2017) used a unique dataset to examine public reactions to fact-checkers: how Twitter users share and comment on fact-checks from PolitiFact. They found that fact-checks of politicians spurred users who shared that politicians party to criticise fact-checking organisations, including accusing them of bias. These critiques may have downstream effects, reducing the perceived credibility of these organisations (Thorson et al. 2010). Finally, at least in the American context, partisanship also shapes the perceived credibility of fact-checkers. In surveys, Republicans are substantially more likely than Democrats to say that fact-checkers tend to favour one side (Walker and Gottfried 2019). Republicans are also more likely to criticise fact-checking organisations on social media (Shin and Thorson 2017).
Some corrections come not from fact-checks but directly from journalists. In the US, factchecking practices are adopted by several mainstream news outlets such as AP and US/1 Today and also occupy a notable, although non-primary, role in journalists’ own use of Twitter (Cod-dington et al. 2014). The practice of directly correcting a politicians false statement, often termed journalistic adjudication’, is controversial as it runs counter to the traditional ‘he said, she said’ model of reporting disputed factual claims (Pingree et al. 2014). However, journalistic adjudication can be an effective approach to fact-checking, even when a correction runs counter to pre-existing political attitudes (Lyons 2018). Finally, experts can be an effective source of corrections. In the social media context, corrections of health misinformation that come from expert sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are more successful than those that come from social media users (Vraga and Bode 2018; van der Meer and Jin 2020)