People relying on TV, social media for Covid updates are less informed on virus

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People who obtain their news about the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) from television and social media are less knowledgeable about the virus than those looking for other sources, according to the results of a survey published Monday by Current Medical Research & Opinion.

Compared to those who trust other sources, such as government websites, to provide them with accurate news about the pandemic, respondents who relied on TV were up to 15 percent less likely to correctly answer questions on the virus and related risks, the data showed.

Respondents who cited Facebook as a trusted news source on Covid-19 early in the pandemic were roughly 10-percent less likely to have correct information.

Among respondents, 43 percent cited government websites, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cdc.gov, as the most trusted source of pandemic-related information, while 27 percent indicated television and 9 percent said health system communications.

“If we agree that the CDC website is a ‘trustable’ source, what our data suggests is that we really need to work hard at getting all people to trust it,” study co-author Dr. Robert P. Lennon said.

“It also suggests that if we want to counter misinformation, we should search across all news sources to find it, so that it can be corrected,” said Lennon, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Up to two-thirds of people in the United States rely on social media for news, according to 2017 findings from Pew Research.

A separate analysis conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 found that false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be spread on social media than accurate ones.

For this study, Lennon and his colleagues surveyed nearly 6,000 adults in central Pennsylvania between March 25 and 31 last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic was just taking hold in the United States.

Respondents answered questions about where they got their news sources for the coronavirus, and which ones they trusted most.

In addition, they were then given 15 statements about Covid-19 and asked if they thought the statements were true or false, as well as how confident they were in their answers.

The questions were designed to assess knowledge of virus transmission, severity and treatment.

Respondents who said that their most trusted source of information was government health websites were 20 percent to 30 percent more likely to correctly answer Covid-19 questions than other groups.

Those who cited television as either their single most trusted source or as an additional information source were up to 15% less likely to correctly answer the questions, while those who selected “Facebook” were about 10% less likely to do so.

Facebook was used as a proxy for all social media in the study “because we did not have enough users of other social media to analyze” their knowledge, Lennon said.

“We found that people who got any news from Facebook were less likely to have high knowledge, [but] this was before Facebook started aggressively fact-checking related to Covid-19,” Lennon said.

“Our data fully supports rigorous fact checking on social media, but does not condemn any particular platform,” he said.

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