Should I Immunize Myself Against Internet Hoaxes on Vaccination? An Experimental Assessment of Source and Message Credibility
The sizable decline in childhood vaccinations represents a serious public health concern. Online environments have facilitated the fast diffusion of inaccurate information about risks of vaccines. The multiplicity and heterogeneity of information producers on the web challenge individuals’ ability to assess content credibility. By means of an experimental study we explore the role of sources in determining message credibility assessment. Further to this, we explore the extent to which the effect of sources is conditioned by pre-existing attitudes on vaccinations. We test these effects using a fictitious article on the benefits of alternative immunization. Findings indicate that citizens have low faith in this type of news, but would be willing to believe them if encountered on the website of a well know newspaper. Moreover, sources are meaningful tools to orient people’s judgment and, their effects are moderated by predispositions. Those with weaker opinions on the safety of vaccination are mostly susceptible to believe misinformation if hosted by authoritative sources.