Accurate, Focused Research on Law, Technology and Knowledge Discovery Since 2002

Misinformation works and a handful of social ‘supersharers’ sent 80% of it in 2020

TechCrunch: “A pair of studies published Thursday in the journal Science offers evidence not only that misinformation on social media changes minds, but that a small group of committed “supersharers,” predominately older Republican women, were responsible for the vast majority of the “fake news” in the period looked at. The studies, by researchers at MIT, Ben-Gurion University, Cambridge and Northeastern, were independently conducted but complement each other well. In the MIT study led by Jennifer Allen, the researchers point out that misinformation has often been blamed for vaccine hesitancy in 2020 and beyond, but that the phenomenon remains poorly documented. And understandably so: Not only is data from the social media world immense and complex, but the companies involved are reticent to take part in studies that may paint them as the primary vector for misinformation and other data warfare. Few doubt that they are, but that is not the same as scientific verification. The study first shows that exposure to vaccine misinformation (in 2021 and 2022, when the researchers collected their data), particularly anything that claims a negative health effect, does indeed reduce people’s intent to get a vaccine. (And intent, previous studies show, correlates with actual vaccination.) Second, the study showed that articles flagged by moderators at the time as misinformation had a greater effect on vaccine hesitancy than non-flagged content — so, well done flagging. Except for the fact that the volume of unflagged misinformation was vastly, vastly greater than the flagged stuff. So even though it had a lesser effect per piece, its overall influence was likely far greater in aggregate. This kind of misinformation, they clarified, was more like big news outlets posting misleading info that wrongly characterized risks or studies. For example, who remembers the headline “A healthy doctor died two weeks after getting a COVID vaccine; CDC is investigating why” from the Chicago Tribune? As commentators from the journal point out, there was no evidence the vaccine had anything to do with his death. Yet despite being seriously misleading, it was not flagged as misinformation, and subsequently the headline was viewed some 55 million times — six times as many people as the number who saw all flagged materials total…”

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.