Debunking rumors on social media: The use of denials

  • Anjan Pal, Alton Y.K. Chua, Dion Hoe-Lian Goh
  • Computers in Human Behavior, July 2019, Elsevier
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.022

Debunking rumors on social media: The use of denials

What is it about?

With the growing proliferation of electronic word-of-mouth, rumors on the Internet have the potential to become viral. They can be shared easily on social media using one-click plugins such as Facebook's Share button or Twitter's Retweet button. When they eventually turn out to be false, rumors cause unnecessary panic and anxiety among the public.A possible strategy to debunk rumors is the use of denials, which refer to messages that refute false rumors. This research shows how denials can be used a proactive strategy to debunk rumors on social media.

Why is it important?

Even though rumors are highly prevalent, visible, and easily accessible in online setting, there has been a dearth of attempt hitherto to counter their spread. Unlike in the offline setting, the growing internet accessibility and proliferation of social media applications—where rumors are openly posted and reposted—have made it not only possible to investigate rumoring phenomena but also provide an opportunity to carefully craft debunking messages. This research offers insights to practitioners such as social media managers and website administrators on ways to debunk rumors using denials. It suggests that developing denials in an ad-hoc manner is not effective in terms of disseminating such messages through crowdsourcing. The more the denials are shared, the greater would be their chance to spread widely in the online community.

Perspectives

Dr Anjan Pal
University of York

A possible strategy to debunk rumors is the use of denials, which refer to messages that refute false rumors. Whenever rumors find traction in sizable segments of the population, authoritative sources that are deemed as credible commonly intervene by issuing denials. For example, the United States government established a special section for “rumor control” on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website in 2013 to debunk rumors using denials such as “the government was not issuing food stamps for free” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Likewise, the website debunked rumors in the wake of Hurricane Florence in 2018. Moreover, different rumor-verification websites such as Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, and FactCheck.org have emerged to issue rumor denials on an on-going basis. Exposure to such denials enhances individuals' critical thinking ability, thereby curtailing the spread of rumors.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.022

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