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Title: Combating rumors on the internet : the use of rebuttals
Authors: Pal, Anjan
Keywords: Social sciences::Communication
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Pal, A. (2021). Combating rumors on the internet : the use of rebuttals. Doctoral thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Project: MOE2014-T2-2-020 
Abstract: Rumors on the Internet have become a growing concern. A possible way to tackle rumors is the use of rebuttals, which refer to messages that are designed to debunk rumors on the Internet. However, the online community may not always accept rebuttals as the truth. Hence, the goal of this research is to investigate the underlying mechanism of rebuttal acceptance, which was conceptualized as Internet users’ belief in rebuttals and intention to share the debunking messages. Belief refers to individuals’ level of trust in the rebuttals, while intention to share refers to their willingness to disseminate the rebuttals in order to spread the truth among members of the online community. To achieve the goal, this research formulates two research objectives. The first research objective is to develop and empirically validate a conceptual model of rebuttal acceptance. Informed by the literature on rebuttals and information-processing behavior, the conceptual model seeks to explain the underlying mechanism of rebuttal acceptance. Specifically, it hypothesizes how perceived message properties of rebuttals could be related to perceived utilitarian and hedonic values, which in turn could be associated with rebuttal acceptance. The second research objective is to examine the moderating roles of exposure sequence, attitudinal predisposition, and issue involvement. Given the possibility that Internet users can confront a rebuttal when they are not even aware of the rumor, this research takes into account the role of exposure sequence of the two antithetical messages—rumor and its rebuttal—as one of the moderators. Moreover, the moderating roles of individuals’ attitudinal predisposition and issue involvement are examined since these individual differences are known to influence rumor-processing behavior. Attitudinal predisposition refers to individuals’ prior attitude towards an object. Issue involvement refers to the extent to which individuals perceive an issue to be important. A between-participants experimental design was adopted to manipulate the exposure sequence of a rumor and its rebuttal. Both quantitative and qualitative data were obtained. Complete responses from 305 social media users were admitted for analysis. Partial least squares structural equation modeling was employed to analyze the quantitative data. Perceived message properties were positively related to perceived utilitarian and hedonic values, which were further positively associated with rebuttal acceptance. Exposure sequence, attitudinal predisposition, and issue involvement significantly moderated the underlying mechanism of rebuttal acceptance. To gain further insights, an inductive content analysis was employed to analyze the qualitative data. In addition, the qualitative component was intended to enrich the experimental data. The emergent themes obtained from the qualitative responses not only complement the quantitative findings but also extend the understanding of users’ perceptions of rebuttals. The qualitative findings particularly revealed that users can seek further information and express doubts when they receive rebuttals. Therefore, the use of rebuttals may require a follow-up that authorities could use to gain public trust and address related concerns. This research contributes to the literature by explaining the underlying mechanism of rebuttal acceptance. This paves the way to inform practitioners and other Internet users about how rebuttals can serve as antidotes to rumors on the Internet.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/146507
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:WKWSCI Theses

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