During COVID-19, it is crucial that citizens have access to reliable and trustworthy health-related information. However, many governments and health experts have raised concerns about pernicious online content which contains false claims. We use online experiments to understand (1) which individuals are most vulnerable to believing falsities and (2) what features of false content lead individuals to believe they are true.
This project is supported by the Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.
Explaining the science
Existing research has largely focused on understanding the prevalence, spread and origins of online health-related misinformation, with several large COVID19 related projects already underway. However, little research has addressed whether such misinformation is actually accepted and adopted by people – and why individuals do so.
We use online experiments and surveys to understand how different groups of people are vulnerable to different types of health-related misinformation. We are also using the experiments to uncover what features of misleading content make them appear more believable – by changing the features of the content that we show to different participants, we can understand how those features impact their perceptions of the content's veracity.
To provide insight into people’s vulnerability to accepting health-related misinformation during COVID-19. We will address three research questions:
- What factors are associated with people who are more likely to believe health-related misinformation?
- What features are associated with false health-related content that people are (erroneously) more likely to believe is true?
- What policies and interventions can be developed to mitigate the harmful impact of health-related misinformation?
Our findings will directly feed into policymaker discussions, helping to ensure that vulnerable people are given appropriate support to counter potential misinformation.