How to debunk misinformation

With a global flood of misinformation and fake news undermining democracies around the world and our ability to extract the truth, a global team of 22 experts led by academics at The University of Western Australia, the University of Bristol, and George Mason University has released a handbook to help navigate the misinformation maze.

The Debunking Handbook 2020 analyses the large extent to which citizens and politicians are entangled in the dissemination of inaccuracies, preventing people from making informed judgements and going against the principles we stand for in a democratic world.

The online handbook summarises the science of debunking for engaged citizens, policy makers, journalists and other practitioners.

Professor Ullrich Ecker, from UWA’s School of Psychological Science and one of three lead authors, said misinformation had particularly insidious psychological consequences because it often stuck in people’s memories even after it had been debunked.

“Misinformation is everywhere. It can be spread inadvertently if people make a genuine mistake, but it can also be used strategically to cause harm,” Professor Ecker said.

“In today’s environment, people get much of their news from social media, which lacks gate-keepers and therefore allows misinformation to spread fast and wide.

“People are being bombarded with information and it has become difficult for them to separate fact from fiction.”

Professor Ecker said the handbook explained how best to combat misinformation, such as through intensive debunking or inoculating people against misleading information before it becomes entrenched.

“The handbook was created by a unique process that involved a series of predefined steps, all of which were followed and documented,” he said.

“The authors were invited to contribute based on their scientific expertise in the field, and agreed on all points made in the handbook. The result is a handbook that reflects the scientific consensus about how to combat misinformation.”

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