People’s understanding of the concept of misinformation


In the main, work has focused on defining and conceptualising the term misinformation, why and how people share misinformation, as well as the consequences for individual behaviour and policy making. Misinformation is an especially live issue in the context of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and the communication that people use to inform their interpretations of risks, and claims about what is needed to reduce exposure and spread of the virus. However, we know very little about what the public take the concept of misinformation to mean. Therefore, here and for other matters of public interest, it is worth understanding what informs the way people report what misinformation means to them. To address this, we present findings from a large scale representative survey (N=4,407) from four countries (Russia, Turkey, UK, USA) to investigate the various ways in which people understand the concept of misinformation. Intentionality appears to matter, where most agreement was for the general description of misinformation as ‘Information that is intentionally designed to mislead’ (69.00%). Relative to other sources (e.g. media, other people), experts (48.38%) and scientific evidence (60.20%) were the most common sources by which to determine that something is misinformation. Finally, looking at specific features of information, misinformation was most associated with information that exaggerated conclusions from facts (49.24%), didn’t provide a complete picture (48.83%), and was presented as fact rather than opinion or rumour (43.07%). In general, country and demographic factors (age, gender, education, marital status, employment status) did not appear to distinguish these patterns of responses. This work helps to reveal what people report they take the concept of misinformation to mean, which may inform ways of targeting it.

Journal of Risk Research