A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country
British Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming
50 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2012 Last revised: 22 Oct 2015
Date Written: February 25, 2015
Despite the prevalence of anti-government rumors in authoritarian countries, little is currently known about their effects on citizens' attitudes toward the government, and whether the authorities can effectively combat rumors. With an experimental procedure embedded in two surveys about Chinese internet users' information exposure, this study finds that rumors decrease citizens' trust in the government and support of the regime. Moreover, individuals from diverse socioeconomic and political backgrounds are similarly susceptible to thinly evidenced rumors. Rebuttals generally reduce people's belief in the specific content of rumors, but often do not recover political trust, unless the government brings forth solid and vivid evidence to back its refutation or win the endorsement of public figures broadly perceived to be independent. But because such high-quality and strong rebuttals are hard to come by, rumors will erode political support in an authoritarian state. These findings have rich implications for studies of rumors and misinformation in general and authoritarian information politics in particular.
Keywords: rumor, misinformation, rebuttal, social media, authoritarian politics, China
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