Credibility of Scientific Information on Social Media: Variation by Platform and Presence of Formal Credibility Cues

Abstract

Responding to calls to take a more active role in communicating their research findings, scientists are increasingly using easily available online platforms, such as Twitter, to engage in science communication or to publicize their research findings. However, in the crowded arena of online platforms, it is increasingly important for scientists to present their findings in a manner that appears credible, especially considering the heightened opportunity for the misunderstandings surrounding scientific topics, such as climate change. To examine the extent to which the online presentation of science information relates to its perceived credibility, we designed and conducted two surveys on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. In the first survey, participants rated the credibility of science information on Twitter compared with the same information other platforms, and in the second, participants rated the credibility of tweets with modified characteristics: presence of an image, text sentiment, number of likes/retweets. We found that that the same information about scientific findings was generally found less credible when presented on Twitter than on other platforms. However, there is evidence that even within Twitter, the inclusion of recognizable features of Scientific work, such as figures, the paper abstract, and the use of the paper title, may be related to increased credibility on Twitter. A clear understanding of features that contribute to and detract from credibility on a platform as widely distrusted as Twitter may allow researchers who regularly use Twitter for research-related networking and communication to present their findings in the most credible formats.