Seeking Formula for Misinformation Treatment in Public Health Crises: The Effects of Corrective Information Type and Source

Abstract: An increasing lack of information truthfulness has become one fundamental challenge to communications. Insights into how to debunk this type of misinformation can especially be crucial for public health crises. To identify corrective information strategy that increases awareness and triggers actions during infectious disease outbreaks, an online experiment (N=700) was conducted, using a U.S. sample. After initial misinformation exposure, participants’ exposure to corrective information type (simple rebuttal vs. factual elaboration) and source (government health agency vs. news media vs. social peer) was varied, including a control group without corrective information. Results show that, if corrective information is present rather than absent, incorrect beliefs based on misinformation are debunked and the exposure to factual elaboration, compared to simple rebuttal, stimulates intentions to take protective actions. Moreover, government agency and news media sources are found to be more successful in improving belief accuracy compared to social peers. The observed mediating role of crisis emotions reveals the mechanism underlying the effects of corrective information. The findings contribute to misinformation research by providing a formula for correcting the increasing spread of misinformation in times of crisis.