Misinformation and Attitude Formation Analyzed Through Social Media Posts

Moderator Nathaniel Stevens (University of Waterloo) below, discusses data display results with speaker Aengus Bridgman (McGill University).Aengus Bridgman (McGill University) reviews the research plan involved in his study of how misinformation makes its way into the public discourse.

In this COPSS-NISS hosted webinar, Aengus Bridgman, (McGill University) presented a quick review of three papers that he had recently co-authored.  These papers included: “A Rare Moment of Cross-Partisan Consensus: Elite and Public Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada”, Canadian Journal of Political Science, April 2020, “The causes and consequences of COVID-19 misperceptions: Understanding the role of news and social media”, MisInformation Review, July 2020 and, “Infodemic pathways: Evaluating the role that news and social media play in crossnational information transfer”, which will be published soon.

In the first paper Aengus looked at the question, “How do politicians’ cues impact the mass public response to the pandemic?”   He collected a massive amount of data to investigate this question through multiple surveys, Twitter posts from Members of the Canadian Parliament, and a Google search history from 87 Canadian cities.  His findings showed that while political elites are increasingly using social media, partisanship was not a significant variable when it came to the perceived severity of the pandemic or the perceptions relating to the implementation of social distancing practices.

 Aengus’ second paper looked at misinformation (and the debunking of this misinformation) on social media.  Again, his massive dataset included 2.25 million tweets, 8.8 thousand news articles through which he again followed to see where selected keywords would take him.  His analysis confirmed that misinformation is widespread on social media (no shock there) but also showed that public health recommendations appeared much more frequently in the news media and that the information quality differential between these two sources is dramatic.  And, what you consume matters – especially when it comes to misperceptions, risk evaluations, and social distancing.  This certainly raises the question: “What are the consequences of all of this misinformation?”  While Aengus discussed this in terms of the data he analyzed, there is certainly a need for further study here.

Aengus’s third paper involves an investigation into how misinformation enters the public discourse. Through massive datasets from Twitter as well as a multi-wave surveys Aengus is able to show how Canadians are very exposed to information from the United States.  From here, he was able to determine the impact this information from the US on Canadian posting behavior: the more they “follow” US Twitter accounts, the more likely these Canadians are to post their own original misinformation.  This was verified through a triangulation with the data collected in survey self-reports which show that there is a large interaction between social media use and US news exposure.  The impact this has on Canadian behaviors and what Canadian politicians can do about it is an important question that was raised. 

Moderator Nathaniel Stevens (University of Waterloo) fielded questions from those in attendance and asked Aengus a few of his own throughout the session.  Some of these questions included:  “Could you please explain from your study the nature of the origin of the misinformation?  Are people simply inventing stories/myths out of thin air?  Are people repeating rumors they hear and perhaps elaborating?  Is the intent selfish, narcissistic, malicious, political, reckless, or what?”, “How do you determine what is/is not misinformation?”, “Do you address COVID-fatigue vs. misinformation in regards to compliance?”, and “Why does this matter?  Does this misinformation or disproportionate information from outside of Canada lead, for instance, to masks non-compliance and decreased adherence to lockdown measures?”  The responses to these questions and the discussion it raised can be reviewed in the recording of the event below.

Want to learn more?  Mark your calendar for every 1st and 3rd Thursday from noon to 1 pm ET.  (See the NISS website for event details and to register for these sessions!) 
Below, please find a recording of this session along with a link to the slides that the speaker used. The slides not only provide you with the key points that were offered but also include links to additional resources that should not be ignored!

Recording of the Session

Slides used by the Speaker

Aengus Bridgman, (McGill University)

Misinformation and attitude formation among the Canadian Public

Moderator: Nathaniel Stevens, (University of Waterloo)

About this Webinar Series

The COPSS-NISS COVID-19 Data Science webinar series is co-organized by the Committee of the Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) and its five charter member societies (ASAENARIMSSSC, and WNAR), as well as NISS.  This bi-weekly seminar features the latest research that is positioned on the cusp of new understanding and analysis of COVID-19 pandemic data, and promotes data-driven research and decision making to combat COVID-19. Find out more about this series and view all the previous sessions on the Webinar Series page.

Friday, February 19, 2021 by Glenn Johnson