Nevin Manimala Statistics

Difference in Rumor Dissemination and Debunking Before and After the Relaxation of COVID-19 Prevention and Control Measures in China: Infodemiology Study

J Med Internet Res. 2024 May 15;26:e48564. doi: 10.2196/48564.


BACKGROUND: The information epidemic emerged along with the COVID-19 pandemic. While controlling the spread of COVID-19, the secondary harm of epidemic rumors to social order cannot be ignored.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this paper was to understand the characteristics of rumor dissemination before and after the pandemic and the corresponding rumor management and debunking mechanisms. This study aimed to provide a theoretical basis and effective methods for relevant departments to establish a sound mechanism for managing network rumors related to public health emergencies such as COVID-19.

METHODS: This study collected data sets of epidemic rumors before and after the relaxation of the epidemic prevention and control measures, focusing on large-scale network rumors. Starting from 3 dimensions of rumor content construction, rumor propagation, and rumor-refuting response, the epidemic rumors were subdivided into 7 categories, namely, involved subjects, communication content, emotional expression, communication channels, communication forms, rumor-refuting subjects, and verification sources. Based on this framework, content coding and statistical analysis of epidemic rumors were carried out.

RESULTS: The study found that the rumor information was primarily directed at a clear target audience. The main themes of rumor dissemination were related to the public’s immediate interests in the COVID-19 field, with significant differences in emotional expression and mostly negative emotions. Rumors mostly spread through social media interactions, community dissemination, and circle dissemination, with text content as the main form, but they lack factual evidence. The preferences of debunking subjects showed differences, and the frequent occurrence of rumors reflected the unsmooth channels of debunking. The χ2 test of data before and after the pandemic showed that the P value was less than .05, indicating that the difference in rumor content before and after the pandemic had statistical significance.

CONCLUSIONS: This study’s results showed that the themes of rumors during the pandemic are closely related to the immediate interests of the public, and the emotions of the public accelerate the spread of these rumors, which are mostly disseminated through social networks. Therefore, to more effectively prevent and control the spread of rumors during the pandemic and to enhance the capability to respond to public health crises, relevant authorities should strengthen communication with the public, conduct emotional risk assessments, and establish a joint mechanism for debunking rumors.

PMID:38748460 | DOI:10.2196/48564

By Nevin Manimala

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