We develop two text message courses, then combine them into a third, that focus on addressing different reasons people share misinformation while inoculating them to protect themselves from misinformation. First, people may share misinformation as an intuitive reaction to emotional stimulation. The "Emotions'' course focuses on teaching a "Stop and Think'' strategy to counteract this intuitive reaction. In particular, the course teaches that emotions like fear, anger, and superiority are often primed by misinformation.
Second, people may share misinformation because they do not know it is misinformation. The "Tactics'' course focuses on teaching different techniques used to create misinformation and how to identify them. Specific tactics taught by the course concern misleading graphs, imposter websites, and eyewitness media.
The "Combo'' course teaches the concepts from both the Emotions course and the Tactics course. This course addresses both potential reasons that people share misinformation to test whether the combination of skill sets from the two courses is most effective at changing participant behavior. To ensure that both the length of the text messages and the number of days in the course are the same as the Emotions and Tactics courses, the content of those courses was streamlined.
In addition to the three treatment courses, we will have two control treatments. In the "No-course'' control, participants will receive no content between the pre-survey and the post-survey. Conditional on completing the post-course survey, they will receive the Combo course. The "Reminder'' control course sends a text message each day reminding participants that misinformation is harmful for five days. The goal of this control treatment is to separately identify the effect of the course content (i.e., inoculation) and the potential reminder effect of a daily text message on misinformation.
After participants sign up for the course, they will receive one message per day for five days, unless they are a part of the control group that receives the text message course after completing the post-survey. Participants in this "no-course" control receive no content for five days, then the post-survey, then the "Combo" course. Each day’s content will be less than 1200 characters. Some days have interaction questions. Participants must answer the questions in order to proceed to the next day’s content. The primary goal of the questions is to engage participants with course content, but they also serve as a check on treatment exposure.
We aim to learn whether the skills taught by the inoculation course are substitutes for an accuracy nudge. Accuracy nudges are an effective means of decreasing misinformation sharing (see Pennycook et. al, 2021). In our experiment, the accuracy nudge is randomly assigned to users when they start the pre-survey. Participants who receive the accuracy nudge are asked the question "To the best of your knowledge, how accurate is the claim in the above post?'' for each post prior to asking the participant if they would share the post, in both surveys. Participants who do not receive the accuracy nudge are asked the accuracy question for all posts after answering the sharing question for all posts, in both surveys.