Misinformation vs. Negativity: Key Insights for Crisis Communicators

Explore key findings on how audiences perceive misinformation and negativity in the news. Learn practical insights for crisis and corporate communications to build trust, promote media literacy, and enhance transparency in your communication strategies.

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Dear reader,

In our profession, understanding how audiences perceive threats is critical to effective communication strategies.

I've recently been reading Toni G. L. A. van der Meer and Michael Hameleers' study, "Misinformation perceived as a bigger informational threat than negativity: A cross-country survey on challenges of the news environment,"1 which appeared in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.

This study sheds light on how audiences in different democracies perceive misinformation and negativity in the news, and there are some interesting insights for us in the fields of crisis and corporate communications.

Happy reading!

Table of Contents

Key findings

High perceived prevalence and threat of negativity and misinformation:

  • Respondents in several countries estimate that over half of news content is negative or contains misinformation.

  • Although negativity is systematically present in the news, misinformation is perceived as a greater threat, even in countries where negativity is more prevalent.

Country-specific perceptions:

  • Negativity is perceived more in Western European countries (Netherlands, France, Germany, and the UK), while misinformation plays a greater role in the US and India.

  • In the US and India, misinformation is perceived as deeply rooted and threatening.

Table 1: Estimated Prevalence of Negativity and Misinformation in News Across Countries


Estimated Negativity (%)

Estimated Misinformation (%)

United States



United Kingdom


















Table 2: Perceived Threat of Negativity and Misinformation in News Across Countries (7-point scale)


Perceived Threat of Negativity

Perceived Threat of Misinformation

United States



United Kingdom


















Impact on trust in the news media:

The study suggests that the constant alarm over misinformation could exacerbate the public's cynical view of the news, leading to moral panic and a further erosion of trust.

Practical insights for communications professionals

Focus on building trust through transparency:

As misinformation is perceived as a greater threat, it is important to focus on transparency in your communication strategies. Clearly explain your sources, methods and the steps you take to ensure the accuracy of your information.

Proactively inform your audience about how news is produced and what efforts are made to avoid misinformation.

Promote media literacy:

Introduce media literacy programmes to help your audience distinguish between credible news and misinformation. This can include workshops, online resources and partnerships with educational institutions.

Emphasise the importance of critical thinking and provide tools to verify information.

Constructive journalism:

Shift the focus to constructive journalism that emphasises solution-oriented stories and positive developments. This can help offset the negative bias and provide a more accurate picture of societal progress.

Encourage journalists and news organisations to adopt this approach to restore trust in the media.

Tailor communications to context:

Understand the specific media environment of your target audience. In highly polarised contexts, emphasise the importance of cross-checking information and relying on multiple sources.

In more stable contexts, focus on emphasising the value of established and trusted news sources.

Thinking about our role

As communications professionals, we have a responsibility not only to disseminate accurate information, but also to create a media environment in which trust can thrive.

The findings of this study highlight the many challenges we face: we must balance the inherent negativity of news with the present threat of misinformation.

By focusing on transparency, media literacy, constructive journalism and context-specific strategies, we can help bridge the gap between perception and reality, ultimately contributing to a better-informed and less cynical public.

I encourage you to think about how you can integrate these insights into your own practise. How can we work together towards a more trustworthy and balanced news environment?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences!

References and further reading.

1  Toni, & Hameleers, M. (2024). Misinformation perceived as a bigger informational threat than negativity: A cross-country survey on challenges of the news environment. https://doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-142

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What I am reading/testing/checking out:

  • Continued Education: I am currently following the NATO Crisis

    Management and Disaster Response course at CrisisLab, and I will soon start working on producing my own course for them. Do check it out.

  • Fun Merchandise: for those who missed it, I recently started to create crisis, risk and emergency communication related merchandise. Just fun stuff to decorate your office or proudly wear in the EOC 😅 

  • Perplexity Pages: Ever wanted to reach a wide audience and share your insights? With Pages, you can easily compile your research into shareable articles, making your knowledge accessible to people around the world.

  • Google AI Tool: Turn academic papers into AI-generated audio discussions

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