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Empathy Better Than Facts When Fighting Fake News Says University Of Surrey Research

Published on: 7 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 5 Oct, 2022

Empathy is a more potent weapon than facts when combatting fake news online, according to new research from the University of Surrey.

A team from Surrey found that building rapport is a vital ingredient to winning over those who are distrustful of the benefits of vaccination and health advice.

Dr Itziar Castelló, project lead and associate professor at the University of Surrey, said: “Unfortunately, disinformation and fake news have come to shape critical scientific discourse over the past couple of years. The Covid-19 pandemic should raise alarms within the scientific community and beyond as to why it is critical for us to tackle fake news head-on.

“Disinformation is about emotions and dealing with them means understanding and using emotions to counter that disinformation.”

Associate Professor Itziar Castello led the team considering how to counter fake news.

Focusing on three case studies in France, Italy and Ireland, the project considered how to successfully counter fake news online to re-establish and build trust in healthcare.

The study of Les Vaxxeuses in France found that only using facts to tackle misinformation didn’t change the views of those opposed to vaccination or have any substantive effect on vaccine hesitancy.

The team also looked at the pro-vaccine case of IoVaccino – an Italian Facebook group with more than 100,000 members. The study showed that their focus on scientific facts left no room for doubt or alternative opinions. This resulted in confrontational exchannges online.

The final case focused on the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland in the Human Papilloma Virus vaccination which was attacked by an anti-vaccination group called REGRET. The HSE, in collaboration with the patient advocate Laura Brennan, was able to change the trend and increase the vaccination rates by more than 20 per cent in only two years. Laura Brennan’s engagement combined a very personal and emotional story with a strong understanding of the facts.


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