“The more monstrous the lie, the more likely it will be believed” – this well-known saying has taken on a special meaning in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. American scientists tried to figure out what the average reader of news and social networks pays attention to, assessing the reliability of information about health, and made unexpected conclusions.
This study was conducted by journalism and mass communications experts at the University of Kansas before the pandemic, when the spread of fake medical information was not so rampant.
The scientists invited 750 volunteers to read articles about how a deficiency of non-existent vitamin B17 can cause cancer, and asked them to rate how much they trusted this information and whether they were ready to share it on social networks. In total, eight versions of the article were submitted, which differed in the form of submission and the level of competence of the authors, some of them were marked “unverified” or “suspicious” from the online platforms where they were posted. Some articles imitated official releases, others were written in a more free form. In some publications, the author was presented as a doctor with numerous regalia, in others – as a mother of two children or a blogger writing about a healthy lifestyle.
The results of the study showed that people almost do not pay attention to the level of competence of the author and are ready to follow his recommendations if the information seems convincing enough to them. The presentation of the material also does not matter: readers equally perceive both pseudo-official messages and a freer format. However, many participants drew attention to the notes that the data was not verified or suspicious. Volunteers who demonstrated high literacy in the use of information technologies paid most of all to assessing the reliability of information.
According to the authors of the study, these findings suggest that social networks and other online platforms should be more responsible in checking the published information and warn the reader if it is in doubt.
“Spreading fake health news can be very dangerous. We saw that some people easily believed in the existence of vitamin B17 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdalin, which is essential for cancer prevention. Someone may spend time, money and effort looking for this cure, instead of following the doctor’s recommendations, ”the study authors say.