Coronavirus (821) Dealing with digital misinformation: a polarised context of narratives and tribes

12 July, 2020

With thanks to Irina Ibraghimova and LRC Network. This paper was published before COVID, but is highly relevant. There is growing consensus that our human need to strengthen our sense of identity leads us to confirmation bias. The current tendency of the world's population to congregate in online groups through social media leads us to further reinforce our world view and entrench ourselves further in false beliefs.

Zollo F. Dealing with digital misinformation: a polarised context of narratives and tribes.

EFSA J. 2019 Jul;17(Suppl 1): e170720

Open access



The advent of the internet and social networks has revolutionised the information space and changed the way in which we communicate and get informed. On the internet, a huge amount of information competes for our (limited) attention. Moreover, despite the increasing quantity of contents, quality may be poor, making the environment particularly florid for misinformation spreading. In such a context, our cognitive biases emerge, first and foremost, confirmation bias, i.e. the human tendency to look for information that is already in agreement with one's system of beliefs. To shade light on the phenomenon, we present a collection of works investigating how information gets consumed and shapes communities on Facebook. We find that confirmation bias plays a crucial role in content selection and diffusion, and we provide empirical evidence of the existence of echo chambers, i.e. well separated and polarised groups of like-minded users sharing a same narrative. Immersed in these bubbles, users keep framing and reinforcing their world view, ignoring information dissenting from their preferred narrative. In this scenario, corrections in the form of fact-checking or debunking attempts seem to fail and have instead a backfire effect. To contrast misinformation, smoothing polarisation is so essential, and may require the design of tailored counter-narratives and appropriate communication strategies, particularly for sensitive topics.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: