Trying to debunk political rumors can make them stronger:
Rumors have it: Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength.
"Rumors are sticky," says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. "Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse."
More specifically, Berinsky found in an experiment concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that rebuttals of political rumors about the supposed existence of "death panels" sometimes increased belief in the myth among the public.
"Pure repetition, we know from psychology, makes information more powerful," Berinsky says.
In the case of the "death panels," Berinsky's research indicates that the best way to counteract these rumors is to find a political figure who could credibly debunk the rumor based on their broader political stand -- a Republican senator, for instance. ...
Yes, that's going to happen. Anyway:
Berinsky's experiment also produced new data about the attachment of the electorate to myths in general. He asked respondents whether they believed in any or all of seven different myths, six of which concerned politics -- such as the myth that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, or the rumor that vote fraud in Ohio swung the 2004 presidential election to then-President George W. Bush. Only 5 percent of the population believed four or more of the seven rumors, but on average, people believed 1.8 of the rumors.
As Berinsky sees it, that means belief in seemingly outlandish ideas is not the province of a relatively small portion of uninformed, conspiracy-minded voters.
"It's not that there are some people who believe a lot of crazy things," Berinsky says. "There are a lot of people who believe some crazy things." ...