This is further justification why we do not allow anti-science commenters on this site. It’s not a debate but the reader often does not know that.
Healthcare websites are attempting to educate about health risks but a new study shows, surprisingly, that readers may be influenced more by online comments than by credible public service announcements. We’re in trouble.
Writing in the Journal of Advertising, WSU marketing researchers Ioannis Kareklas, Darrel Muehling and TJ Weber are the first to investigate how Internet comments from individuals whose expertise is unknown impact the way people feel about vaccines.
Their study, “Reexamining Health Messages in the Digital Age: A Fresh Look at Source Credibility Effects,” comes after a recent outbreak of measles linked to Disneyland parks in California has affected at least 100 people in the United States and Mexico.
In one experiment, 129 people were asked to view two made up public service announcements followed by comments from fictitious online commenters who either expressed pro- or anti-vaccination viewpoints. The participants were not given information about the commenters. The participants were equally persuaded by the PSAs and the online comments.
“That kind of blew us away,” said Kareklas. “People were trusting the random online commenters just as much as the PSA itself.”
In the second experiment, when affiliations were given, people took that information into consideration. The researchers suggest that “supportive comments from noted experts be highlighted on health websites.” Anonymous commenters trying to undermine established science get far too much attention and credibility from readers and spread misunderstanding.
Meanwhile, misinformation has serious consequences: Measles Hits Chicago: Five Babies Diagnosed With Disease At Day Care
Today on Practical Skepticism: Trust experts or those who tell a good story?.