Misinformation and Polarization in a High-Choice Media Environment: How Effective Are Political Fact-Checkers?

New publication by Michael Hameleers and Toni van der Meer, in Communication Research. Find the article here. One of the most fundamental changes in today’s political information environment is an increasing lack of communicative truthfulness. To explore this worrisome phenomenon, this study aims to investigate the effects of political misinformation by integrating three theoretical approaches: (1) misinformation, (2) polarization, and (3) selective exposure. In this article, we examine the role of fact-checkers in discrediting polarized misinformation in a fragmented media environment. We rely on two experiments (N = 1,117) in which we vary exposure to attitudinal-congruent or incongruent political news and a follow-up fact-check article debunking the information. Participants were either forced to see or free to select a fact-checker. Results show that fact-checkers can be successful as they (1) lower agreement with attitudinally congruent political misinformation and (2) can overcome political polarization. Moreover, dependent on the issue, fact-checkers are most likely to be selected when they confirm prior attitudes and avoided when they are incongruent, indicating a confirmation bias for selecting corrective information. The freedom to select or avoid fact-checkers does not have an impact on political beliefs.