Perceived prevalence of misinformation fuels worries about COVID-19

Jörg Matthes, Nicoleta Corbu, Soyeon Jin, Yannis Theocharis, Christian Schemer, Peter van Aelst, Jesper Strömbäck, Karolina Koc-Michalska, Frank Esser, Toril Aalberg, Ana S. Cardenal, Laia Castro, Claes de Vreese, David Nicolas Hopmann, Tamir Sheafer, Sergio Splendore, James Stanyer, Agnieszka Stępińska, Václav Stetka, Alon Zoizner

Data suggests that the majority of citizens in various countries came across ‘fake news’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. We test the relationship between perceived prevalence of misinformation and people’s worries about COVID-19. In Study 1, analyses of a survey across 17 countries indicate a positive association: perceptions of high prevalence of misinformation are correlated with high worries about COVID-19. However, the relationship is weaker in countries with higher levels of case-fatality ratios, and independent from the actual amount of misinformation per country. Study 2 replicates the relationship using experimental data. Furthermore, Study 2 demonstrates the underlying mechanism, that is, perceived prevalence of misinformation fosters the belief that COVID-19 is spiralling out of control, which in turn, increases worries. Our findings suggest that perceived prevalence of misinformation can have significant psychological effects, even though audience members reject the information as being false.

Department of Communication
External organisation(s)
Technische Universität München, Loughborough University, University of Bucharest, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Audencia Business School, University of Antwerp, Universität Zürich (UZH), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) , Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, University of Amsterdam (UvA), University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Hebrew University Jerusalem, Universitá degli Studi di Milano, Adam Mickiewicz University, University of Gothenburg, University of Haifa
Information, Communication & Society
3135 – 3158
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
508007 Communication science
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Communication, Library and Information Sciences
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