Users on social media platforms more likely to believe misinformation during pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless research studies have targeted the spread of misinformation on social networking sites. Now, new research published in the journal Misinformation Review uncovered how users on social media platforms in particular are more likely to believe misinformation, compared to consumers of traditional media.

The peer-reviewed study, conducted at McGill University, took into account millions of posts on Twitter, thousands of news stories, and the findings of a Canadian-based nationwide survey probing coronavirus misinformation and its behavioral effects.

According to researchers, the two prime platforms for electronic communication, Twitter and Facebook, are inherently the source where misinformation is spread among Canadians and users abroad. And the role these platforms have in addressing and moderating such false information could be very problematic.

“Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are increasingly becoming the primary sources of news and misinformation for Canadians and people around the world. In the context of a crisis like COVID-19, however, there is good reason to be concerned about the role that the consumption of social media is playing in boosting misperceptions,” said Aengus Bridgman, co-author of the study, in a news release.

“There is growing evidence that misinformation circulating on social media poses public health risks,” commented another co-author of the study.

In their findings, it was demonstrated that social media platforms are more likely to churn false information, with big differences in behavioral patterns evident in comparison to consumers of more traditional media. This was still the case, even when socioeconomic status and scientific literacy was taken into consideration.

“We find that exposure to social media is associated with misperceptions regarding basic facts about COVID-19 while the inverse is true for news media. These misperceptions are in turn associated with lower compliance with social distancing measures,” the co-authors concluded in their release.

“We thus draw a clear link from misinformation circulating on social media, notably Twitter, to behaviours and attitudes that potentially magnify the scale and lethality of COVID-19.”

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