Fighting COVID-19 misinformation on social media

David Rand
Erwin H. Schell Professor and Associate Professor of Management Science and Brain & Cognitive Sciences (BCS)

2020 SENSE.nano Symposium
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Session 4: Populations
3:50PM – 4:05PM EST

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a substantial challenge to global human well-being. Not unlike other challenges (e.g., global warming), the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic depends on the actions of individual citizens and, therefore, the quality of the information to which people are exposed. Unfortunately, however, misinformation about COVID-19 has proliferated, including on social media.

In this talk, Rand will present evidence that people share false claims about COVID-19 partly because they simply fail to think sufficiently about whether or not the content is accurate when deciding what to share. In a first study, participants were far worse at discerning between true and false content when deciding what they would share on social media relative to when they were asked directly about accuracy. Furthermore, greater cognitive reflection and science knowledge were associated with stronger discernment.

In a second study, we found that a simple accuracy reminder at the beginning of the study (i.e., judging the accuracy of a non-COVID-19-related headline) nearly tripled the level of truth discernment in participants’ subsequent sharing intentions. Our results, which mirror those found previously for political fake news, suggest that nudging people to think about accuracy is a simple way to improve choices about what to share on social media.

David RandBiography
David Rand is the Erwin H. Schell Professor and Associate Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Bridging the fields of cognitive science, behavioral economics, and social psychology, David’s research combines behavioral experiments and online/field studies with mathematical/computational models to understand human decision-making. His work focuses on illuminating why people believe and share misinformation and “fake news”; understanding political psychology and polarization; and promoting human cooperation.

His work has been published in peer-reviewed journals such Nature, Science, PNAS, the American Economic Review, Psychological Science, Management Science, and the American Journal of Political Science, and has received widespread media attention. He has also written for popular press outlets including the New York Times, Wired, and New Scientist. He was named to Wired’s Smart List 2012 of “50 people who will change the world,” chosen as a 2012 Pop!Tech Science Fellow, received the 2015 Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Research, was selected as fact-checking researcher of the year in 2017 by the Poyner Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, and received the 2020 FABBS Early Career Impact Award from the Society for Judgment and Decision Making. Papers he has coauthored have been awarded Best Paper of the Year in Experimental Economics, Social Cognition, and Political Methodology.