You’re in a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger group with people you know and interact with regularly. Maybe it’s a family group that also includes some extended, not-so-well-known family. Maybe it’s a local group for parents of kids who attend the same school. And because the Covid-19 pandemic is still alive and present, chatter turns to Covid-19 vaccines and someone — not someone close to you — shares information that’s not quite correct. Do you respond? Why not?
These are the questions behind a recently released report from researchers associated with the Everyday Misinformation Project at Loughborough University in the U.K.
What the researchers found, based on in-depth interviews with 102 people in the U.K., is that conflict avoidance was a major theme that emerged as far as how people chose — or not — to engage with misinformation in personal messaging groups.
“If you disagreed with a close friend about an important issue, what we found is that these environments of personal messaging mean that people spend a lot of time getting very anxious about avoiding conflict and not provoking conflict in ways that might degrade their social relationships with their family and friends,” said Andrew Chadwick, professor of political communication at Loughborough University and one of the authors of the report. “The extent to which we saw this was really quite surprising to us.”
Chadwick shared that he expected more people in the study would share that they had been enthusiastically intervening when they encountered misinformation on these personal messaging platforms. “Instead, what we found was a lot of people who were reluctant to really get involved at that level.”
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