Are socio-demographic and economic characteristics good predictors of misinformation during an epidemic?

13 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2020

See all articles by Robert M Gonzalez

Robert M Gonzalez

Georgia Institute of Technology - School of Economics

Elisa M. Maffioli

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Health Management and Policy; University of Michigan

Date Written: September 5, 2020

Abstract

What characterizes a conspiracy theorist? Combining data on beliefs about the origin of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia with conventional and machine learning methods, we uncover that, contrary to popular beliefs, socio-demographic and economic indicators play a minor role in predicting who is more likely to believe false information about the origin of the epidemic. Conspiracy theorists are not any poorer, older, less educated, more economically distressed, more rural, or ethnically different than individuals who are correctly informed. They are, however, significantly more likely to report high levels of distrust, especially towards governmental institutions. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that access to cell phone coverage can play a key role in belief-updating: individuals with coverage are 7 percentage points more likely to switch from misinformed to informed by the end of the epidemic. These results highlight the importance of government trust and information and communication technologies in reducing misinformation during epidemics.

Keywords: Misinformation, Epidemic, Ebola Virus Disease, Trust, Cell Phone Coverage, Machine Learning

JEL Classification: I15, I18, O22

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Robert M and Maffioli, Elisa M. and Maffioli, Elisa M., Profile of a Conspiracy Theorist: The Role of Government Trust and Technology on Misinformation during an Epidemic (September 5, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3688576 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3688576

Robert M Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Georgia Institute of Technology - School of Economics ( email )

217 Habersham
Atlanta, GA 30332
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.robertmgonzalez.com

Elisa M. Maffioli

University of Michigan ( email )

4438754930 (Phone)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Health Management and Policy ( email )

109 Observatory
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029
United States

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