Study shows vulnerable populations with less education more likely to believe, share misinformation

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens public health around the world, misinformation regarding its treatment, causes and cures has abounded. A University of Kansas study has found that vulnerable populations, often those most severely affected by such crises, are also at a high risk of consuming and sharing such misinformation online, while also struggling to assess information’s credibility.

What’s more, when misinformation is related to a topic people are personally involved in, they are more likely to believe and share it.

“One of the reasons I think this study is important is that it shows the importance of continuing education, especially for older adults,” said Hyunjin Seo, associate professor of journalism & mass communications at KU. “We know income, education level and other factors are vital in how people assess information. Our study tried to capture the intersection of those factors.”

“We found those with higher levels of education and who attended computer class sessions, both formal and informal forms of education, were more likely to accurately assess source credibility,” Seo said.

Researchers also found the more closely a person was connected to the topic, the more likely they were to say they would share it via social media.

For society, the findings illustrate the importance of developing and delivering non-degree continuing education in information and technology literacy for vulnerable and underserved populations instead of standardized approaches, especially as methods of spreading misinformation continue to evolve.

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