Biased, not lazy: assessing the effect of COVID-19 misinformation tactics on perceptions of inaccuracy and fakeness

Stephanie Jean Tsang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Purpose: In light of the fact that people have more opportunities to encounter scientific misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this research aimed to examine how different types of misinformation impact readers’ evaluations of messages and to identify the mechanisms (motivated reasoning hypothesis vs. classical reasoning theory) underlying those evaluations of message inaccuracy and fakeness.

Design/methodology/approach :This research employed data from an online experiment conducted in Hong Kong in March 2022, when the fifth COVID-19 wave peaked. The data were collected using quota sampling established by age based on census data (N = 835).

Findings: In general, the participants were not able to discern manipulated content from misinterpreted content. When given a counter-attitudinal message, those who read a message with research findings as supporting evidence rated the message as being more inaccurate and fake than those who read the same message but with quotes as supporting evidence. Contrary, one’s disposition to engage in analytical thinking and reasoning was not found to impact assessments of information inaccuracy and fakeness.

Implications: With respect to the debate about whether people are susceptible to misinformation because of cognitive laziness or because they want to protect their personal beliefs, the findings provide evidence of the motivated reasoning hypothesis. Media literacy programs should identify strategies to prepare readers to be attentive to personal biases on information processing.

Originality/value: Although many researchers have attempted to identify the mechanisms underlying readers’ susceptibility to misinformation, this research makes a distinction between misinterpreted and manipulated content. Furthermore, although the Cognitive Reflection Test is widely studied in the Western context, this research tested this disposition in Hong Kong. Future research should continue to empirically test the effects of different types of misinformation on readers and develop distinct strategies in response to the diverse effects found.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469–496
Number of pages28
JournalOnline Media and Global Communication
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • analytical thinking
  • distrust in science
  • Hong Kong
  • misinformation
  • motivated reasoning
  • perceived inaccuracy
  • perceived fakeness


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