Want Your Audience to Respond to Your Fact-Checking Efforts? Try Video.

A study in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly finds a video fact-check helps clarify better than text

Headshot of Corinne Grinapol

While we don’t view video as panacea for all that ails the media industry, a study published this month in the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly finds a particularly useful place for video: as a vehicle for effectively imparting the results of a fact-check, more so than by text.

That conclusion is the result of a study that examined participants’ reactions to two videos and a text-based fact-check around a claim about the Keystone XL pipeline and job creation. The fact-checks were all Annenberg Public Policy Center products, the text check from FactCheck.org, its text-based fact-checking site, and the videos from FlackCheck.org, its video-based fact-checking site.

The 2:1 ratio of videos to text was necessary to test whether humor would be more effective than a more serious-toned video. Participants, 525 of them, were first provided with the claim, and then shown either the text fact-check, a funny video about the fact-check, a serious video about the fact-check, a random and unrelated funny video, or nothing.

The most surprising result, since we already gave away the fact that video works better than text, is that the humorous video wasn’t more effective than the serious video.

“While the hypotheses posited that the strategic use of humor could fuel belief correction by reducing argument scrutiny and motivated reasoning, these results offer no evidence of humor’s unique effectiveness per se,” wrote the study authors Dannagal G. Young, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Shannon Poulsen and Abigail Goldring. “Instead, the video format itself (both humorous and nonhumorous) increased message interest/attention and reduced audience confusion in a way that then contributed to belief correction.”

The reasons video worked better had to do with the clarity they provided. “The videos were more interesting and less confusing than the original print article in a way that translated into broader belief correction and inference making,” read the findings. The more comprehensive nature of the article was a hindrance because it created an information overload scenario, compared to the “more digestive form of information offered through the video, which streamlined content and eliminated superfluous details, likely fueled comprehension and recall by not overburdening respondents’ cognitive processing capacity.”

The study comes with one important caveat: the Keystone XL fact-check was very intentionally chosen because it was deemed not as polarizing as other issues like abortion and immigration, where people’s deeply held beliefs around those issues may be harder to correct, even when they’re false.