May 4, 2021

Kathleen Hall Jamieson explains how continuing exposure to misinformation makes you more likely to believe conspiracy theories about the covid vaccine.

"Well, what my colleague Dan Bremer and I found was there's a real difference in what you're exposed to over time. So it's just one snapshot in time. This is following people across a four-month period during the covid pandemic, March through July," Jamieson said.

"And what we found was that those beliefs intensify if you are exposed to conservative outlets and our social media. But they were minimized if you were exposed to mainstream print. And the question then becomes, if you can intensify or minimize, that means we can find a way to catch those individuals who may be vulnerable before they move into conspiracy world and reduce the likelihood others will move in.

“We have more familiarity with accurate information, preemptively. For example, on the origins of the virus. How do we know it's not bioengineered? That's what the conspiracy theory says. China bioengineered this as a weapon. The scientists have looked at the genome and haven't found any evidence of it.”

Keilar brought up officials in the Trump administration who are "experts" who have breathed life into that theory. “How do you stop people from drifting into that? How do you catch them as you say, before they do that? Because it seems like once they're gone, they are kind of gone.”

Jamieson said familiarity with information increases the likelihood you think it's accurate.

“The more exposure you have to an accurate understanding, the greater the likelihood you'll accept that accurate understanding. We can create climates in which you're less susceptible to deception because we've put deeper understandings of what we know in place before you're ever exposed to the deception,” she said.

“We can digest what we know into forms the public can get. What's problematic about the conspiracy beliefs isn't that you hold them. What difference does it make if China created this bioweapon or not to me personally? The problem is that belief in these conspiracy theories increases the likelihood that you'll not vaccinate. We should worry about coordinating in advance. Vaccination is safer than getting the virus. If we can say, well, then I shouldn't vaccinate, the important thing is protecting you and your community, getting you vaccinated, I wouldn't worry as much about the bioengineering as about the false inference."

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