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Misinformation during a pandemic


Bursztyn, Leonardo; Rao, Aakaash; Roth, Christopher P; Yanagizawa-Drott, David (2020). Misinformation during a pandemic. NBER Working Papers 27417, National Bureau of Economic Research.

Abstract

Media outlets often present diverging, even conflicting, perspectives on reality — not only informing, but potentially misinforming audiences. We study the extent to which misinformation broadcast on mass media at the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic influenced health outcomes. We first document large differences in content between the two most popular cable news shows in the US, both on the same network, and in the adoption of preventative behaviors among viewers of these shows. Through both a selection-on-observables strategy and an instrumental variable approach, we find that areas with greater exposure to the show downplaying the threat of COVID-19 experienced a greater number of cases and deaths. We assess magnitudes through an epidemiological model highlighting the role of externalities and provide evidence that contemporaneous information exposure is a key underlying mechanism.

Abstract

Media outlets often present diverging, even conflicting, perspectives on reality — not only informing, but potentially misinforming audiences. We study the extent to which misinformation broadcast on mass media at the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic influenced health outcomes. We first document large differences in content between the two most popular cable news shows in the US, both on the same network, and in the adoption of preventative behaviors among viewers of these shows. Through both a selection-on-observables strategy and an instrumental variable approach, we find that areas with greater exposure to the show downplaying the threat of COVID-19 experienced a greater number of cases and deaths. We assess magnitudes through an epidemiological model highlighting the role of externalities and provide evidence that contemporaneous information exposure is a key underlying mechanism.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
JEL Classification:D1, I31, Z13
Uncontrolled Keywords:Media, misinformation, health, coronavirus
Language:English
Date:September 2020
Deposited On:15 Feb 2021 12:45
Last Modified:16 Feb 2021 07:17
Series Name:NBER Working Papers
Number of Pages:112
Additional Information:Revised version
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3386/w27417
Official URL:https://www.nber.org/papers/w27417

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