Quantifying Spread of Misinformation

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In recent article published in the journal Science, MIT researchers found that a group of committed “supersharers,” predominantly older Republican women, were responsible for most of the “fake news” during the pandemic.

The researchers found that articles marked by moderators as false or misinformation had stronger impact on vaccine hesitancy than the non-flagged content. The large volume of unflagged misinformation far outweighed the flagged content, suggesting that flagging misinformation is effective. Even though each piece of misinformation had smaller impact individually, its overall impact was likely much bigger.

We find that flagged misinformation does causally lower vaccination intentions, conditional on exposure. However, given the comparatively low rates of exposure, this content had much less of a role in driving overall vaccine hesitancy compared with vaccine-skeptical content, much of it from mainstream outlets, that was not flagged by fact-checkers. Our work suggests that while limiting the spread of misinformation has important public health benefits, it is also critically important to consider gray-area content that is factually accurate but nonetheless misleading.

– From Science

This Tech Crush article cites one such example unflagged article headline from Chicago Tribune, “A healthy doctor died two weeks after getting a COVID vaccine; CDC is investigating why”. Even though this was a clear misinformation, it was not reportedledly labeled as such. As a result, this headline garnered around 55 million views, six times more than the combined views of all flagged materials.

This conflicts with the common wisdom that fake news on Facebook was responsible for low U.S. vaccine uptake. It might be the case that Facebook usership is correlated with lower vaccine uptake (as other research has found) but it might be that this ‘gray area’ content that is driving the effect — not the outlandishly false stuff.

– JenifferAllen of MIT Study told TechCrunch

A more recent study in the journal Science found that a total of 2,107 registered U.S. voters were responsible for spreading 80% of the “fake news” during the 2020 election.

“These findings highlight a vulnerability of social media for democracy, where a small group of people distort the political reality for many,” concluded Baribi-Bartov and colleagues.

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