PULLMAN, Wash. – The more people rely on social media as their main news source the more likely they are to believe misinformation about the pandemic, according to a recent survey analysis by Washington State University researcher Yan Su.
The study, published in the journal Telematics and Informatics, also found that levels of worry about COVID-19 increased the strength of people’s belief in that misinformation. Two factors weakened beliefs in false information: having faith in scientists and a preference for “discussion heterogeneity,” meaning people liked talking with others who held different views.
Su, a doctoral student in WSU’s Murrow College of Communications, said the findings point to possible practical solutions to disrupt the spread of misinformation.
“Fact checkers are important for social media platforms to implement. When there is no fact checker, people just choose to believe what is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs,” said Su. “It’s also important for people to try to get out of their comfort zones and echo chambers by talking with people who have different points of view and political ideologies. When people are exposed to different ideas, they have a chance to do some self-reflection and self-correction, which is particularly beneficial for deliberation.”
For the study, Su analyzed responses to the 2020 American National Election Studies Exploratory Testing Survey, which was conducted at the start of the pandemic. Of the 3,080 people who submitted questionnaires, a little more than 480 said they believed at least one of two pieces of misinformation about COVID-19: that the coronavirus was developed intentionally in a lab and that there was currently a vaccine for the virus. The respondents were also asked to rate how confident they were in these beliefs.
Su compared this data to the participants’ other responses on the survey related to social media use, levels of worry and trust in scientists as well as how much the respondents valued discussions with people of differing viewpoints.
He found an amplification effect from social media users who were particularly worried about the coronavirus.
“It seems that the more you use social media, the more likely you become worried about COVID-19, perhaps because there is a lot of unfounded and conspiracy theories on social media,” Su said. “Then this in turn can trigger a higher level of worry which leads to further belief in misinformation.”
The survey data was collected during the beginning of the pandemic. Around the same time, the Pew Research Center found that nationally 3 in 10 Americans believed that the coronavirus was created in a lab, despite there being no evidence for this statement, and a third believed there was already a vaccine.
Su said more research is needed because of the continued proliferation of false and misleading stories around the pandemic.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has spread a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation, which has negative consequences because many people use these false statements as evidence to consolidate their pre-existing political ideologies and attack each other,” said Su. “It’s important to understand the antecedents and motivations for believing and circulating misinformation beliefs, so we can find ways to counteract them.”
Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.
Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster
Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.
Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update
Our December 2021 product reviews update is now rolling out for English-language pages. It will take about three weeks to complete. We have also extended our advice for product review creators: https://t.co/N4rjJWoaqE
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 1, 2021
The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.
A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:
“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.
Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.
Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”
Continue Reading Below
Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.
The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.
The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.
The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.
Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update
Product Review Update Targets More Languages?
The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.
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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.
This is his question:
“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.
So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.
…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t know… like other languages?
My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.
But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.
But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.
I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.
But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.
And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.
So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.
But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”
Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?
While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.
Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.
One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.
It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.
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