Five Myths about Misinformation

What I was wrong about when I wrote our grant proposal

Hannah Metzler
Complexity Science Hub & Medical University of Vienna

Vienna Behavioral Circle
May 16 2024

Myth 1: People are gullible

  • People are easy to manipulate.


  • Facts! Education!
  • Make them more skeptical

The Science:

  • It’s hard to change people’s mind.
  • People are too skeptical.
  • Alarmist narrative has negative effects.

Myth 2: Emotions = Irrationality

  • Emotions make people fall for misinformation


  • Make them less emotional
  • Focus on accuracy

The Science:

  • Emotions can indicate recognition
  • Emotions are functional

Myth 3: There’s a lot of misinformation


  • Reduce it & warn people

The Science:

  • Only 1-6% of all news.
  • Most people don’t read the news.
  • Motivated minority shares majority of misinfo: 1%, 5%, 2%
  • Misinformation from the top!

Myth 4: Misinformation drives behavior

  • Strong effects on opinions and behavior.


  • Reduce it, facts, warning, inoculations etc.

The Science:

  • Russian disinformation attacks during 2016 Trump election: no effects on attitudes, polarization & voting (study 1, 2)
  • Even mass media have small effects at best

Myth 5: It’s social media’s fault!

  • Algorithms radicalize people
  • Echo chambers cause polarization


The Science:

So what?

  • Reducing misinformation will not solve the real problems
  • Alarmist narrative reduces trust in reliable news
  • Misinformation & social media companies are scapegoats to avoid doing the hard work

Doing the hard work

  • Improve democratic, medical & scientific institutions
  • Trustworthy & transparent politics & media
  • Address societal inequalities and conflicts
    • Climate change, poverty, sexism, education, globalization, racism…

Thank you!

More on our project: