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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The spread of (mis)information: A social media experiment in Pakistan

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This study examines the dissemination of (mis)information on a social media platform in Pakistan. It combines an intervention to disseminate official information about the COVID-19 pandemic across the platform with a randomized experiment that measures the impact of fully controlling access to pandemic-related misinformation.  The two treatments rely on a higher-intensity, ex-ante approach to moderating misinformation on the platform relative to the control, which relies on a more standard ex-post approach to moderation. In one treatment, no misinformation was allowed on the platform, while in the other, it was allowed with an official rebuttal. Controlling misinformation, as in the treatments, reduces platform usage by 41%, indicating a distaste for moderation. Furthermore, the treatments reduce exposure to official information by 29% more than they reduce exposure to misinformation. A conceptual framework posits that these findings can be explained by the fact that, in this setting, official information is more trusted, and thus is more widely disseminated, relative to misinformation. We find evidence for two potential mechanisms for the observed distaste for moderation.

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