Dynamics of social corrections to peers sharing COVID-19 misinformation on WhatsApp in Brazil

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2021 Dec 28;29(1):33-42. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocab219.


Objective: Online COVID-19 misinformation is a serious concern in Brazil, home to the second-largest WhatsApp user base and the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths. We examined the extent to which WhatsApp users might be willing to correct their peers who might share COVID-19 misinformation.

Materials and methods: We conducted a cross-sectional online survey using Qualtrics among 726 Brazilian adults to identify the types of social correction behaviors (SCBs) and health and technological factors that shape the performance of these behaviors.

Results: Brazil's WhatsApp users expressed medium to high levels of willingness to engage in SCBs. We discovered 3 modes of SCBs: correction to the group, correction to the sender only, and passive or no correction. WhatsApp users with lower levels of educational attainment and from younger age groups were less inclined to provide corrections. Lastly, the perceived severity of COVID-19 and the ability to critically evaluate a message were positively associated with providing corrections to either the group or the sender.

Discussion: The demographic analyses point to the need to strengthen information literacy among population groups that are younger with lower levels of educational attainment. These efforts could facilitate individual-level contributions to the global fight against misinformation by the World Health Organization in collaboration with member states, social media companies, and civil society.

Conclusion: Our study suggests that Brazil's WhatsApp users might be willing to actively respond with feedback when exposed to COVID-19 misinformation by their peers on small-world networks like WhatsApp groups.

Keywords: Brazil; COVID-19; behavior; correction; misinformation; social media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brazil
  • COVID-19*
  • Communication
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Media*