Antecedents Driving the Intention to Share Unverified COVID-19 Information on Social Media

Antecedents Driving the Intention to Share Unverified COVID-19 Information on Social Media

Thong Bing Tai (Multimedia University, Malaysia), Tze Wei Liew (Multimedia University, Malaysia), Su-Mae Tan (Multimedia University, Malaysia) and Mohammad Tariqul Islam Khan (Multimedia University, Malaysia)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8235-0.ch002
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Abstract

Infodemic refers to the influx of inaccurate or deceptive information on social media during a pandemic. The sharing of unverified COVID-19 information on social media is pervasive in Malaysia, which leads to adverse consequences stemming from misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. Drawing upon the cognitive load theory (CLT) and self-determination theory (SDT), this research examined the antecedents driving unverified COVID-19 information sharing on social media in Malaysia. Based on 309 validated online survey responses, the PLS-SEM analysis revealed that except for trust towards online information; the proposed factors, self-disclosure, information overload, entertainment, and fear of missing out (FoMo), were found to predict the intention to share unverified COVID-19 information sharing on social media in Malaysia. Theoretical implications are discussed through CLT and SDT, and practical recommendations for government agencies, social media administrators, and public members to curb unverified COVID-19 information sharing on social media in Malaysia are offered.
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Introduction

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted that “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.” (Twitter, 2020). The statement characterizes infodemic, which concerns the influx of inaccurate or deceptive information during a disease outbreak. In the age of information abundance, social media has become a popular choice for people to exchange news and information. Unfortunately, social media has also become a tool for perpetuating unverified health information regarding COVID-19.

Notably, the three categories concerning unverified health information are misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. Misinformation refers to false information that is inadvertently or unintentionally forwarded. For instance, during March 2020, a notion that drinking warm water can inhibit and even kill the invading virus with stomach acid emerged. The baseless information was regrettably disseminated widely and rapidly through social media (Ambrose, 2020). Disinformation refers to the fabrication and sharing of fake news with malicious intentions. During the early Ebola outbreak, certain parties have intentionally fabricated and disseminated the rumors that healthcare workers were harvesting patients’ organs (Dzieza, 2014) and that the Ebola virus was a government’s hoax to receive fundings and donations (Cheung, 2015). Mal-information refers to the deliberate distortion of the original information misused and repurposed with malicious intentions. For instance, certain parties manufactured the Covid-Vegan memes by stitching together a picture depicting a large amount of vegan food on a supermarket shelf with the caption claiming that people were avoiding vegan products amid the pandemic (Chiorando, 2020).

According to Lewandowsky et al. (2012), people rarely retract or correct unverified information that they have shared, even when they have realized later the need to perform the retractions. Unverified information related to daily affairs tends to be repeatedly diffused through the sharing on social media for a long time (Wen & Zhang., 2018). This is worrying as unverified COVID-19 information can cause adverse public reactions such as over-reacting and under-reacting as well as self-isolation behaviors (Zarocostas, 2020; Pennycook et al., 2020). Furthermore, misleading information can cause citizens to hold and exhibit unproductive views and actions that inhibit strategies aimed at improving the pandemic situation (Kanekar & Thombre, 2019).

From a theoretical perspective, research on the behavioral and psychological factors that drive the intention to share unverified COVID-19 information on social media is scant. While studies on unverified information sharing have been conducted in Singapore, United States, Italy, and Nigeria (Chen, 2015; Pennycooka & David, 2019; Rovetta & Bhagavathula, 2020; Apuke & Omar, 2020); similar investigation has yet to be conducted in Malaysia. Thus, understanding to what extent these factors affect the intention to share unverified COVID-19 information on social media can provide unique insights into theory and practice. Formally, the research question of this study was formulated as:

RQ: What are the antecedents that drive the intention to share unverified COVID-19 information on social media in Malaysia?

This study enriches the literature on unverified health information by providing theoretical contributions. Although prior studies have examined the spread of misinformation on social media (Chen et al., 2015; Wen & Zhang, 2018; Talwar et al., 2019; Talwar et al., 2020), research regarding misinformation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is scarce. As an extension to the scant research on health-related misinformation (Apuke & Omar, 2020; Islam et al., 2020; Laato et al., 2020), this study is the first to investigate the antecedents of unverified COVID-19 information sharing on social media in Malaysia. Further, the findings of this study can help mitigate the propagation of panic and misinformation concerning COVID-19 on social media (Ahmad & Murad, 2020). Against this backdrop, this study attempts to understand why people tend to share unverified COVID-19 information on social media and discover the current trend of what social media platforms that people most utilized to spread unverified COVID-19 information.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Infodemic: An influx of inaccurate or deceptive information on social media during a pandemic.

Information Overload: Occurs when too much information and messages on media far exceed one’s information demand and processing capability.

Self-Disclosure: Describes social media user’s communication form through descriptive disclosure that reveals personal information, while evaluative disclosure expresses personal feelings such as aspirations and fears, as well as personal thoughts with others.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): The pervasive anxiety of social media users about others having rewarding experiences compared to them.

Unverified Information: The source of the message that is uncertain or not authentic, forming misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information.

Social media: An internet-based communication platform that facilitates users to share and exchange information, including unverified ones.

Cognitive Load Theory: A theory that describes how many “chunks” of information that humans can be held and processed in their working memory at a given period.

Entertainment: Engaging social media to fulfill the need for pleasure and moderate negative emotions such as anxiety, mainly through features surrounding likes, comments, and exchange of novel information.

Trust Toward Online Information: The belief that one's online information is valuable mediates by the expertise level and critical thinking skills.

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