Coronavirus (1009) Who Is Susceptible to Online Health Misinformation?

4 October, 2020

CITATION: American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) October 2020

Who Is Susceptible to Online Health Misinformation?

Laura D. Scherer PhD, and Gordon Pennycook PhD

Accepted: July 29, 2020 Published Online: October 01, 2020


'Although everyone has the potential to be misled by false information, online misinformation is not an equal opportunity aggressor. Some of us are more likely to believe misinformation than are others and serve as vectors by sharing it on social media...

To summarize, there are three currently dominant (albeit not entirely mutually exclusive) theoretical perspectives addressing why certain people are susceptible to online misinformation: (1) being confused about what is true versus false, suggesting that knowledge or various literacies are a primary factor; (2) having strong preexisting beliefs or ideological motivations that lead to motivated reasoning and therefore a desire to believe and share misinformation; and (3) neglecting to sufficiently reflect about the truth or accuracy of news content that is encountered on social media...

Although content moderation on social media platforms is clearly needed, we also need scalable interventions that can efficiently reach and effectively influence the people who are susceptible to believing and sharing health misinformation. These might be interventions to improve digital literacy or misinformation awareness in online environments. We envision a targeted public health campaign, and the first thing that any campaign needs is an excellent understanding of its audience: who they are, what motivates their beliefs and behaviors, and what is likely to persuade them. To understand our audience and deliver effective messages, we need to identify the characteristics of people who are particularly susceptible to misinformation. Identifying who is susceptible to misinformation will also help us understand why they are susceptible. Understanding misinformation susceptibility in this way could help us make great strides in addressing it through targeted public health interventions.'


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 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: