Countering misinformation via WhatsApp: Preliminary evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe.

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We examine how information from trusted social media sources can shape knowledge and behavior when misinformation and mistrust are widespread. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe, we partnered with a trusted civil society organization to randomize the timing of the dissemination of messages aimed at targeting misinformation about the virus to 27,000 newsletter WhatsApp subscribers. We examine how exposure to these messages affects individuals' beliefs about how to deal with the virus and preventative behavior. In a survey of 864 survey respondents, we find a 0.26σ increase in knowledge about COVID-19 as measured by responses to factual questions. Through a list experiment embedded in the survey, we further find that potentially harmful behavior-not abiding by lockdown guidelines-decreased by 30 percentage points. The results show that social media messaging from trusted sources may have substantively large effects not only on individuals' knowledge but also ultimately on related behavior.





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Bowles, Jeremy, Horacio Larreguy and Shelley Liu (2020). Countering misinformation via WhatsApp: Preliminary evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe. PloS one, 15(10). p. e0240005. 10.1371/journal.pone.0240005 Retrieved from

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Shelley Liu

Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Shelley Liu is an assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Her primary research and teaching focuses on issues relating to conflict, development, and state-building in fragile political contexts. Her ongoing research projects examine (1) how war shapes politics and development, (2) citizen agency in state legibility projects, and (3) the determinants of polarization, politicization, and disengagement.  Liu's research has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, PLOS ONE, Political Science Research and Methods, Politics & Society, and World Politics. 

Prior to joining Duke faculty, Liu was an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy. She holds a PhD in government from Harvard University (2020). 

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