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Study: The More Partisan News You Read, The Less You Believe Fact-Checkers

(Illustration by Mariana Dale, images via Pixabay CC0 1.0)
The study found the more partisan your online media diet, the less like you are to believe fact-checkers.

As politics becomes more and more divisive, fact-checking sites have become a mainstay in the news business.

Now, just about every speech a politician makes will be put to the truth-test. But, that doesn’t mean everyone will believe what the fact-checkers have to say.

That issue takes front and center in an article from nonprofit journalism organization the Poynter Institute that looks at a study that found the more partisan your online media diet, the less like you are to believe fact-checkers.

“Essentially, boiling it down, the more you consume partisan news, the less likely you are to believe what the experts have to say,” according to Alexios Mantzarlis, head of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. “Even if you actually do know what the experts have to say.”

Mantzarlis founded a fact-checking site in Italy before joining Poynter and said that this is part of a larger critique of the media that says that partisan news is funneling us into echo chambers where we only believe what ‘our side’ wants us to believe.

But, he doesn’t think this makes fact-checking pointless.

“Deception is not a new mechanism,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we should give [in] to it. I wouldn’t be in my job and I wouldn’t be advocating for more fact-checking if I thought that was the case. I just think we are setting ourselves up [for] failure if we think that every single fact-check will change every single person’s mind.”

The study, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, also found that when a partisan media outlet fact-checks its ‘own side’ of the political spectrum, readers are more likely to believe it, even if it’s against their own interests.

Journalists can help to stem the flow of false information by repeating the fact that certain claims are untrue every time a candidate brings them up, according to Mantzarlis. And the general public can help by being careful about what they share on social media.

“Just don’t retweet or share something that you’re not quite sure where that came from,” he said. “Dig a little bit further into it before retweeting it.”

Studies like this will bolster those who say we’ve entered a “post-fact era,” Mantzarlis said. But, he doesn’t think that’s anything new.

“Politicians have an incentive to lie,” he said. “And you can go back all the way to the ancient Greeks to find, at the time, philosophers … complaining about what effect these lies have on the public.”

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.