Research Delves Into Sources of Pandemic-Related Misinformation

Multiple studies conducted over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic have come to the conclusion that the spread of misinformation is highly reliant on social networks.

Fighting the spread of misinformation linked to the pandemic online has become a responsibility for all social media platforms. With applications such as Facebook and Twitter featuring millions of active users, interaction between uninformed individuals and the rabble of conspiracy theory flag-wavers is bound to happen. Unless, of course, proper measures are not taken. In lieu of that, these very platforms have done the best they can to stem the dissemination of misinformation, by both raising awareness and blocking sources of inaccuracy.

The latter point does, however, lead to a question as interesting as it is relevant: what really is the biggest source of pandemic-related inaccuracies online? Is it really just a small minority hard at work employing bots? Or are the sources a much larger and influential group? Well, research groups seems to arrive at different conclusions.

The Indiana University and Politecnico recently pooled resources in order to best gauge sources of misinformation. Misinformation was outlined via the Media/Bias Fact Check website. Delving into over 80 million tweets and posts across Facebook and Twitter, which were obtained via searching for COVID-related keywords online, the study reported that verified accounts ended up being the most egregious offenders.

Despite accounting for 4.5% of the former's population and 1.9% of the latter's, verified misinformation (labelled infodemic superspreaders by the study) accounted for 40% of total retweets and 70% of shared posts. The study also labelled sites such as the Washington Post and the Gateway Pundit to be the source of much of this infodemic, providing the health community with an actual face to oppose and call out.

However, this is hardly the only study published on the topic, and not all point to users being the main source of misinformation. The University of Dubisgburg-Essen and University of Bremen collaborated on a research paper aiming to pin down how much bots account for such breaches.

Amassing tweets from over 500,000 users on Twitter, the results stated that about 78 active bot accounts were responsible for tweeting or retweeting 19,117 factually erroneous posts throughout a 12 week period. A point of note includes that these very accounts also occasionally posted accurate information, in an attempt to blend in better. Carnegie Mellon University also presented similar evidence, linking 45% of the 200 million virus-related tweets to bot accounts (much to the probable ire of Bill Gates and the oh-so-devious 5g towers).

There is almost no comprehending how harmful online misinformation can prove to be, especially as the recent vaccines rolling out have to compete with anti-vaccination groups. However, with sources of misinformation being more visible to the general public, being able to counter them moving onwards becomes a much less daunting task.

H/T: VB.

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