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Misinformation on Misinformation: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges


Altay, Sacha; Berriche, Manon; Acerbi, Alberto (2023). Misinformation on Misinformation: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges. Social Media and Society, 9(1):1-13.

Abstract

Alarmist narratives about online misinformation continue to gain traction despite evidence that its prevalence and impact are overstated. Drawing on research examining the use of big data in social science and reception studies, we identify six misconceptions about misinformation and highlight the conceptual and methodological challenges they raise. The first set of misconceptions concerns the prevalence and circulation of misinformation. First, scientists focus on social media because it is methodologically convenient, but misinformation is not just a social media problem. Second, the internet is not rife with misinformation or news, but with memes and entertaining content. Third, falsehoods do not spread faster than the truth; how we define (mis)information influences our results and their practical implications. The second set of misconceptions concerns the impact and the reception of misinformation. Fourth, people do not believe everything they see on the internet: the sheer volume of engagement should not be conflated with belief. Fifth, people are more likely to be uninformed than misinformed; surveys overestimate misperceptions and say little about the causal influence of misinformation. Sixth, the influence of misinformation on people’s behavior is overblown as misinformation often “preaches to the choir.” To appropriately understand and fight misinformation, future research needs to address these challenges.

Abstract

Alarmist narratives about online misinformation continue to gain traction despite evidence that its prevalence and impact are overstated. Drawing on research examining the use of big data in social science and reception studies, we identify six misconceptions about misinformation and highlight the conceptual and methodological challenges they raise. The first set of misconceptions concerns the prevalence and circulation of misinformation. First, scientists focus on social media because it is methodologically convenient, but misinformation is not just a social media problem. Second, the internet is not rife with misinformation or news, but with memes and entertaining content. Third, falsehoods do not spread faster than the truth; how we define (mis)information influences our results and their practical implications. The second set of misconceptions concerns the impact and the reception of misinformation. Fourth, people do not believe everything they see on the internet: the sheer volume of engagement should not be conflated with belief. Fifth, people are more likely to be uninformed than misinformed; surveys overestimate misperceptions and say little about the causal influence of misinformation. Sixth, the influence of misinformation on people’s behavior is overblown as misinformation often “preaches to the choir.” To appropriately understand and fight misinformation, future research needs to address these challenges.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Cultural Studies
Social Sciences & Humanities > Communication
Physical Sciences > Computer Science Applications
Uncontrolled Keywords:misinformation, misperceptions, social media, conspiracy theories, big data, audience research
Language:English
Date:1 January 2023
Deposited On:04 Jan 2024 10:35
Last Modified:31 Mar 2024 01:36
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:2056-3051
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051221150412
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)