How older adults manage misinformation and information overload - A qualitative study

M Vivion, V Reid, E Dubé, A Coutant, A Benoit, A Tourigny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic was characterized by an abundance of information, some of it reliable and some of it misinformation. Evidence-based data on the impact of misinformation on attitudes and behaviours remains limited. Studies indicate that older adults are more likely to embrace and disseminate misinformation than other population groups, making them vulnerable to misinformation. The purpose of this article is to explore the effects of misinformation and information overload on older adults, and to present the management strategies put in place to deal with such effects, in the context of COVID-19.

METHODS: A qualitative exploratory approach was adopted to conduct this research. A total of 36 semi-structured interviews were conducted with older adults living in Quebec, Canada. The interviews were fully transcribed and subjected to a thematic content analysis.

RESULTS: Participants said they could easily spot misinformation online. Despite this, misinformation and its treatment by the media could generate fear, stress and anxiety. Moreover, the polarization induced by misinformation resulted in tensions and even friendship breakdowns. Participants also denounced the information overload produced largely by the media. To this end, the participants set up information routines targeting the sources of information and the times at which they consulted the information.

CONCLUSIONS: This article questions the concept of vulnerability to misinformation by highlighting older adults' agency in managing misinformation and information overload. Furthermore, this study invites us to rethink communication strategies by distinguishing between information overload and misinformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)871
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Humans
  • Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Communication
  • Qualitative Research
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • COVID-19

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