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Understanding Misinformation (and Things To Do About It!)

Elements for Debunking a Myth

Based on John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky's The Debunking Handbook

Correcting or "debunking" misinformation is challenging, in part because people are more likely to believe information that is familiar, even it they learn later that the information is incorrect (sometimes called the "familiarity backfire effect."

Research indicates that when correcting misinformation, it's best to first introduce core fact  before presenting the false information that needs correcting. After presenting the misinformation, explain how the information is wrong and provide an alternative explanation. The Debunking Handbook (p. 6) identifies four key parts of debunking a myth: 

  • Core facts: Emphasize what is true over what is wrong. Research indicates that when correcting misinformation, it's best to first introduce core fact  before presenting the false information that needs correcting. 
  • Explicit warnings: Before mentioning a myth, provide a warning the the upcoming information is untrue.

     

  • Alternative explanation: As explained in The Debunking Handbook, "When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in a person's mind. To be effective, your debunking must fill that gap" (p. 5). To replace incorrect information, provide a clear explanation that will fill the "information gap." Try to explain things as clearly as possible: people may stop paying attention if faced with information overlaod. This may sometimes mean leaving out some nuances when first presenting people with the corrected information. 

  • Graphics: Visuals can help to illustrate core facts more clearly.