Misinformation on Misinformation: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges

Abstract

Alarmist narratives about online misinformation continue to gain traction despite evidence that its prevalence and impact are overstated. Drawing on research questioning the use of big data in social science and reception studies, we identify six misconceptions about misinformation and examine the conceptual and methodological challenges they raise. The first three misconceptions concern the prevalence and circulation of misinformation.First, the internet is not rife with misinformation or news,but with memes and entertaining content. Second, scientists focused on social media because it is methodologically convenient,but misinformation is not just a social media problem. Third, falsehoods don’t spread faster than the truth, how we define(mis)information influence sour results and their practical implications.The second three misconceptions concern the impact and the reception of misinformation.First, people don’t believe everything they see on the internet:sheer volume of engagement should not be conflated with belief. Second, misinformation’s influence on people’s behavior is overblown since it often preaches to the choir. Third, people are more likely to be uninformed than misinformed, surveys overestimate misperceptions and say little about the causal influence of misinformation. To appropriately understand and fight misinformation, future research needs to address these challenges.

Publication
Altay, S., Berriche, M., Acerbi, A. (2021), Misinformation on Misinformation:Conceptual and Methodological Challenges, PsyArXiv, preprint