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Can Anti-Rumor Campaigns Foster Positive Behavioral Change?

Can Anti-Rumor Campaigns Foster Positive Behavioral Change?

Dr. Xiao-Liang Shen
You Wu

In an age where social media is pervasive and misinformation is rampant, maintaining a healthy online environment is crucial for curbing the spread of unverified rumors. Social media platforms often employ anti-rumor campaigns to foster a positive public atmosphere. However, a fundamental question remains: can these initiatives truly resonate with the public and prompt positive behavioral change? Do such campaigns have the power to influence people’s thoughts and actions in their daily lives? The answer is not yet clear. To effectively counter the spread of online rumors, it is necessary to explore how these efforts to create a positive public atmosphere can be truly impactful. This investigation calls for comprehensive research and deep analysis.

—Do social media campaigns have the power to influence people's thoughts and actions in their daily lives?—

A recent study conducted by Shen and Wu (2024), and published in Telematics and Informatics, offers empirical evidence on how the public atmosphere influences the rumor-combating behaviors of social media users. The study examines the underlying mechanisms through which the public atmosphere motivates social media users to fight against rumors, and identifies the specific conditions under which this influence takes hold. Leveraging insights from psychological attachment theory and ethics research, the study employed a hypothetical scenario methodology and utilized vignettes to simulate real-world contexts for participants. The research team crafted two distinct scenarios: one portraying a strong public atmosphere actively combating rumors, while the other depicting a weak public atmosphere. Participants were randomly assigned to one of these hypothetical scenarios using the MTurk platform, allowing for a controlled examination of how variations in public atmosphere impact rumor-combating behavior.

This study underscores the significance of adopting a social-psychological perspective in understanding the impact of public atmosphere. Social-psychological mechanisms play a crucial role in shaping individual behavior, especially in our increasingly interconnected society where people heavily rely on the observations of others’ behaviors to inform their decisions. When individuals encounter a consistent social consensus on a particular issue, as fostered by the public atmosphere, they tend to conform and assimilate these shared views, adjusting their initial beliefs, altering their attitudes, and adapting their actions accordingly. The study reveals that a strong public atmosphere, by cultivating high-level psychological attachment such as an individual’s identification with or internalization of social values, can promote social media users to verify the authenticity of online information and make efforts to actively refute rumors. Conversely, low-level psychological attachment, which is characterized by mere compliance with external norms and social conventions, does not directly drive these positive actions mentioned earlier unless it evolves into high-level attachment first and triggers a chain mediation effect.

Beyond addressing “why” a positive public atmosphere promotes individuals to combat online rumors, the study further delves into “under what conditions” such positive behavioral change occurs, specifically through the lenses of moral cognition and emotion. Moral judgment, a central element of moral cognition, emphasizes individuals’ reliance on inherent ethical principles to assess the acceptability of a particular action. Anticipated guilt, a key facet of moral emotion, reflects an assessment of the potential adverse consequences of an action within a given context. Further examination of the boundary conditions in this paper demonstrates that moral judgment strengthens the link between a positive public atmosphere and both high-level and low-level psychological attachment. However, anticipated guilt specifically enhances the connection between a positive public atmosphere and low-level psychological attachment.

The study provides a clear theoretical framework for maximizing the impact of a public atmosphere on the positive behavioral change of social media users. It not only delves into the underlying psychological mechanisms but also clarifies the boundary conditions under which such behavioral changes are most likely to occur.

Key Insights for Effective Implementation:

Beyond Slogans: The research highlights that merely using slogans or propaganda is insufficient for driving meaningful behavioral change. To be effective, these messages must be deeply embedded in individuals’ minds, fostering a personal connection with the values they promote.

Internalization and Identification: For positive behavioral change to take place, individuals need to identify with and internalize societal values, adopting them as their own guiding principles and behavioral standards. This means moving beyond superficial acceptance to a deeper level where these values become integrated into one’s personal belief system.

Moral Emphasis: Emphasizing the moral righteousness of specific behaviors, such as combating rumors, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of a positive public atmosphere. When individuals perceive rumor-combating behavior as ethically correct and align it with their moral judgments, they are more likely to proactively act against misinformation.

This article is a translation of: Shen, X. L., & Wu, Y. (2024). From whispers to warriors: Public atmosphere’s role in mobilizing social media users against rumors. Telematics and Informatics, 90, 102133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2024.102133

Cite this article in APA as: Shen, X-L. & Wu, Y. Can anti-rumor campaigns foster positive behavioral change? (2024, June 24). Information Matters, Vol. 4, Issue 6. https://informationmatters.org/2024/06/can-anti-rumor-campaigns-foster-positive-behavioral-change/

Authors

  • Prof. Xiao-Liang Shen

    Dr. Xiao-Liang Shen is a Professor in the School of Information Management at Wuhan University. His research interests include user information behavior, cyberspace governance, and the dark side of IT. With an H-index of 29 and 4833 citations on Google Scholar, he was recognized as a Highly Cited Chinese Researcher by Elsevier. Prof. Shen has co-authored over 90 articles in prestigious journals and conferences, including JASIST, JAIS, JIT, DSS, I&M, IJIM, ICIS, iConference, etc. He serves as the Principal Investigator or co-PI of several competitive grants and holds positions as the Executive Editor of Data and Information Management and Senior Editor of Internet Research.

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  • You Wu

    You Wu is a PhD student at the Economics and Management School of Wuhan University. Her research interests focus on social media and fake news. She has published in Information Processing & Management, Telematics & Informatics, Information Technology & People, among others.

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Prof. Xiao-Liang Shen

Dr. Xiao-Liang Shen is a Professor in the School of Information Management at Wuhan University. His research interests include user information behavior, cyberspace governance, and the dark side of IT. With an H-index of 29 and 4833 citations on Google Scholar, he was recognized as a Highly Cited Chinese Researcher by Elsevier. Prof. Shen has co-authored over 90 articles in prestigious journals and conferences, including JASIST, JAIS, JIT, DSS, I&M, IJIM, ICIS, iConference, etc. He serves as the Principal Investigator or co-PI of several competitive grants and holds positions as the Executive Editor of Data and Information Management and Senior Editor of Internet Research.