Profile of a Conspiracy Theorist: The Role of Government Trust and Technology on Misinformation during an Epidemic

32 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2020

See all articles by Robert M Gonzalez

Robert M Gonzalez

University of South Carolina - Moore School of Business - Department of Economics

Elisa M. Maffioli

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

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., 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)

University of South Carolina - Moore School of Business - Department of Economics

Darla Moore School of Business
1014 Greene Street
Columbia, SC SC 29208
United States

Elisa M. Maffioli

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

109 Observatory
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
39
Abstract Views
177
PlumX Metrics