After eliciting demographic information and news preferences, we inform participants that one in five (i.e. 20% of all respondents) who
complete the survey will be offered a $25 gift card from a company of their choice out of six company options. Respondents are asked to rank the six different gift card companies on a scale from their first choice (most preferred) to their sixth choice (least preferred). The order in which the six companies are presented is randomized at the respondent level. We then ask participants to confirm which gift card they would like to receive, if they are selected. This question serves to check whether respondents have consistent preferences regardless of the type of question asked to elicit their most preferred gift card. Additionally, we ask respondents to assign weights to each of the six gift card options. This question gives respondents greater flexibility by allowing them to indicate the possibility of indifference or no preference (i.e., equal weights) between any set of options. Respondents then report how frequently they have used each of the six companies in the past 12 months.
All participants in the experiment are provided with baseline information on misinformation and advertising. Participants are then randomized into five groups to receive different information treatments, which are all based on factual information from prior research and our data. We use an active control design in order to isolate the effect of providing information relevant to the practice of specific companies on people's behavior.
Our experiment includes the following five randomized groups:
(1) Control: Participants in the control group are given generic information based on prior research that is unrelated to any specific company but relevant to topic of news and misinformation.
(2) T1 (Company only): Participants are given factual information that ads from their top choice gift card company appeared on misinformation websites in the recent past.
(3) T2 (Platform only): Participants are given factual information that companies that used digital ad platforms were about 10 times more likely to appear on misinformation websites than companies that did not use such platforms in the recent past.
(4) T3 (Company and platform): This arm combines information from T1 and T2. Similar to T1, participants are given factual information that ads from their top choice gift card company appeared on misinformation websites in the recent past. Additionally, we inform participants that their top choice company used digital ad platforms and that companies that used such platforms were about 10 times more likely to appear on misinformation websites than companies that did not use digital ad platforms.
(5) T4 (Company ranking): Participants are given factual information that ads from all six gift card companies appeared on misinformation websites in the recent past along with a ranking based on the order of their intensity of advertising on misinformation websites. We personalize these rankings based on data from different years (i.e. 2019, 2020 or 2021) such that the respondents' top gift card choice company does not appear last in the ranking (i.e. is not the company that advertises least on misinformation websites) and in most cases, advertises more intensely on misinformation websites than its potential substitute in the same company category (fast food, food delivery or ride-sharing).
After the information treatment, all participants are asked to make their final gift card choice from the same six options they were shown earlier. To ensure incentive compatibility, participants are told that those who are randomly selected to receive a gift card will be offered the gift card of their choice at the end of our study. Additionally, participants are given the option to sign a real online petition and report their preferences and attitudes.
We first elicit participants' current employment status. All those who are working in some capacity are allowed to continue the survey whereas the rest of the participants are screened out. After asking for participants' main occupation, all participants in the experiment are provided with baseline information on misinformation and advertising. To record their stated preferences, participants are then asked to share how much they agree or disagree with a series of statements on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The order in which these statements are presented is randomized for all participants. To record their revealed preferences, participants are asked three questions in a randomized order: 1) Information demand about consumer responses, i.e. whether they would like to learn how people respond to companies whose ads appear on misinformation websites, 2) Ad check, i.e. whether they would like to know about their own company's ads appearing on misinformation websites in the recent past, and 3) Demand for solution, i.e. whether they would like to sign up for an information session on how companies can manage whether their ads appear online. For information demand about consumer responses, participants are told that they would be provided with this information at the end of our survey if they choose to receive it. For the ad check and demand for solution, participants are told that they would receive this information in a follow-up email after survey completion.
Next, we record participants' baseline beliefs about the role of companies and platforms in placing ads on misinformation websites. Participants are then randomized into a treatment group, which receives information about the role of digital ad platforms in placing ads on misinformation websites, and a control group, which does not receive this information. Following this information intervention, we inquire participants' posterior beliefs about the role played by digital ad platforms in placing ads on misinformation websites as well as their demand for information and donation preference. We then ask participants to answer a few additional questions about their background, preferences, place of work, and feedback on the survey. Participants who opted to learn more in our information demand questions are then provided with this information at the end of our survey.