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Misinformation on Instagram: The Impact of Trusted Endorsements on Message Credibility

Instagram continues to be one of the fastest growing social networks and currently has more than one billion users. While Instagram has not been a focus of investigations into misinformation, it has not been immune to bad actors. And the nature of the Instagram platform, for example the inability to link to credible sources, makes establishing authenticity problematic.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications alumnus Paul Mena, Ph.D. 2019, Telecommunication Professor and Trust Scholar Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, and UF Ph.D. graduate Danielle Barbe, wanted to determine what factors can influence the spread of misinformation on Instagram, focusing on two cues: consensus (judging credibility based on trustworthiness and reputation of endorser), and bandwagon (the more positive feedback, the more credible).

The researchers believed that the presence of a trusted endorsement in an Instagram post containing misinformation positively affects perceived message credibility, and a bandwagon cue positively influences perceived message credibility of an Instagram post containing misinformation.

The research looked at posts from three trusted celebrities (determined through a pre-test):  Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. The researchers also looked at the number of likes for a particular post, theorizing that the more likes, the more likely the information will seem credible, i.e., how authentic, accurate and believable the content appears.

They found that when participants viewed the post of a celebrity endorsing the message, they rated that message as more credible. However, the number of likes had no effect on the message credibility.

What does this research mean for celebrities and social media? Celebrities must be careful about what they share, like and follow because their followers are influenced by their endorsements. According to the researchers, “When a celebrity or someone in a position of trust endorses content containing misinformation, audiences may not only believe the information, but also continue to share the content to imitate the beliefs of the trusted source.”  Social media platforms need to know the influence these celebrities have in sharing misinformation and consider taking steps to educate or create initiatives (e.g. Facebook removing inauthentic content/accounts) in order to prevent the spread of misinformation.

The original article, “Misinformation on Instagram: The Impact of Trusted Endorsements on Message Credibility,” was published in Social Media + Society on June 24, 2020.

 Authors: Paul Mena, Danielle Barbe, and Sylvia Chan-Olmsted.

This summary was written by Alexandra Avelino, UFCJC M.A.M.C. 2020, Student Affairs Program Coordinator at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.

Posted: June 30, 2020
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