Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
C6: Access to and Spreading of Digital Information
Friday, 09/Sept/2022:
12:00pm - 1:00pm

Session Chair: Jonathan Winter, European University Institute, Italy
Location: A 026

HTW Berlin, Campus Treskowallee, Treskowallee 8, 10318 Berlin

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Digital Inequalities and Public Health during COVID-19: Media Dependency and Vaccination

Grant Blank1, Bianca C. Reisdorf2

1University of Oxford, United Kingdom; 2University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Relevance & Research Question: The COVID-19 pandemic has been unusual in that information about the transmission of the virus came out slowly and recommended practices changed over time. This made communication media, like the Internet, unusually important. Despite the potential public health implications of lack of Internet access, skills, and limited Internet use, few prior studies have considered how digital inequalities influence information flows. Building on three research streams—vaccine hesitancy, information-seeking, and digital inequalities—we examine how digital inequalities, health information media, and mass media affect COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Our research question is: How do digital inequalities and health information sources affect COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy?
Methods & Data: We use representative survey data from the USA to build a structural equation model. Our dependent variable is vaccine hesitancy. We control for demographics, conservative and liberal mass media use, political opinions, and worry about COVID-19.
Results: Digital inequalities have an effect on vaccine hesitancy. The effect is indirect: People who are more active online are more likely to use health media. In turn, people who use more health media are more likely to be receptive to vaccination for COVID-19.
Added Value: Our model provides two novel contributions. First, we show that digital inequalities play an important role in public health. They lead to increased health information-seeking, which reduces vaccine hesitancy. Second, our model presents strong evidence supporting a more comprehensive approach to vaccine hesitancy beyond factors like socio-demographics and prior health beliefs to include broader factors like sources of health information. Where and how people find information on public health issues seems to be as important as demographics.

Spreading online rumors during a global pandemic: the role of knowledge, trust, and emotions

Dana Weimann Saks1, Yaron Ariel1, Vered Elishar Malka1, Gabriel Weimann2

1Yezreel Valley Collage, Israel; 2Haifa University

Relevance & Research Question:

COVID-19 global pandemic has brought severe social, economic, and political implications and challenges into our lives. One of the phenomena associated with such emergencies and crises is rumors spreading. Social networks have become a popular arena for spreading and sharing rumors in various contexts, including during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Methods & Data:

The current study tries to predict under which circumstances and psychological mechanisms people might spread COVID-19 related online rumors. We examined three potential factors that might influence people's behavior of spreading those rumors: the participant's thoughts and beliefs about the rumor (Cognitive component), Users' trust in the information they are exposed to in the media (Trust component), and the Emotional response because of media exposure to information regarding the epidemic (Emotional component).


Positive correlation was found between the cognitive component and the behavioral component. The 95% confidence interval (CI) for the direct effect between the cognitive component and the behavioral component with 5,000 resamples did not include 0 (95% CI, 0.717–0.901).

In addition, results have also revealed a mediated route of influence through the trust component. Results have not identified the emotional component as a mediator between the cognitive and the behavioral components. The CI for the indirect effect of the cognitive component on the behavioral component through the emotional component included 0 (95% CI, –0.019 to 0.032) with 5,000 resamples, but the indirect effect of the cognitive component on the behavioral component through the trust component did not (95% CI, 0.005–0.051) (F[3, 496] = 122.84; p < .001).

Added value:

The study's findings reveal that in the quest to control the spread of information, especially online rumors, which might dramatically affect people’s behavior, focusing on the cognitive component might be more effective than focusing on the emotional one. In other words, influencing what people think and believe about spreading rumors might prove much more important than focusing on the emotional reactions of those exposed to the rumors and might spread them to many other people.

Information dissemination of extremist on Facebook

‪Vlad Vasiliu‬‏1, Gabriel Weimann2, Yaron Ariel1

1Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Israel; 2Haifa University

Relevance & Research Question

Social media has been at the forefront of information dissemination. While some of the spreadable content on social media does not make any impact, other became viral, popular or both. Organizations and individuals affiliated with extremist ideology utilized social media information dissemination abilities to different degrees of success. The current study examined the predictors of virality and popularity content of extremist ideology groups using analysis of activity metrics and content analysis.

Hypotheses asserts that the maximal rate of activity metrics and the number of followers can predict whether the content becomes viral or not (H1); and that correlations exist between information dissemination (as virality, popularity, both or none) and content features such as expression (H2), advocacy and justification (H3), use of intimidation and emotion (H4), attempt to recruit (H5), provision of useful information and support or opposition (H6).

Methods & Data

The data for this study gathered by using a dedicated software program that scanned 15 Facebook accounts by organizations and individuals affiliated with extremist ideology. The corpus included 23, 494, 227 samples of 35, 879 posts throughout seven months. The posts were divided according to the discrepancies discussed between virality and popularity. Part of the analysis were conducted on the whole sample, the quantitative content analysis used sub-sample of 200 posts to examine the nature of the content according to the goals of the organization such as calling for activists participation in the organization, fundraising, donations, advocacy, and support of the organization videos as well as intimidation.


Hypothesis H1 was tested using logistic regression and confirmed. The rest of the hypotheses (H2-H7) were examined using a Chi-squared correlation () test. Hypotheses H2, H3 were confirmed while hypotheses H4, H5, and H6 were refuted.

Added Value

This research focuses on content disseminated by extremist organizations and extremist private individuals in the social networks. The mapping of popular and viral content and the dependencies found between their various activity metrics enabled the construction of a model for predicting how content behaves.

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