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Since the spread of COVID-19, people have been eager to understand what’s taking place during the pandemic, how to better protect themselves and what the future holds. However, with multiple “experts” rushing to the forefront to inform the masses and so much information in circulation, consumers are finding it harder than ever to discern what’s real, what’s fact and where to turn to for reliable info.
We’ll examine recent and past studies by the Pew Research Center and the RAND Corporation to break down which platforms audiences trust, why and the emotional impact the pandemic has had on our consumption of news.
Trust in new source varies by age and by platform
Perhaps not surprisingly, users between the ages of 18 and 29 are more likely to trust news found on social media platforms. But perhaps more unexpected is this trust decreases as age increases. Users 65+ are least likely to trust news found on social media, which conflicts with previous findings that seniors are more likely to trust online resources, misinformation and scams.
Seniors, along with users 18-29 and 30-49 are more likely to trust local and national media like TV news stations and radio when it comes to receiving information. This trust is most likely earned from the general belief that TV and radio outlets are subject to more rigorous restrictions and vetting before spreading information as factual.
Unfortunately, consumers are also just as likely to trust information spread by family and friends as they are news sources like TV and radio. A 2017 study conducted by the Media Insight Project found that Americans are more likely to focus on the trustworthiness of the person sharing the information and ignore the news source altogether.
The person sharing the article also has a direct influence on whether or not someone will pass it on to their friends. The source or originator of the information often becomes secondary to the sharer.
News fatigue is on the rise
While spending more time at home, many are consuming COVID-19-related news at an enormous rate. This increase in consumption has led to what many are calling “news fatigue,” an exhaustion stemming from the 24/7 news cycle. Subsequently, 70% of adults have considered or followed through with a full break from the news during quarantine.
Adults ages 30-49 (most likely to be parents or participants in the workforce) are experiencing the most news fatigue of those surveyed. And almost half of millennials believe themselves to be emotionally worse off after consuming information about the coronavirus. This could be due to the fact that one third of Americans believe the news being disseminated by various sources is unreliable.
Social media grows as a news source during COVID-19
Before COVID-19, 38% of Americans were getting their news from TV and 25% from news websites like FOX News, ABC, CNN and the New York Times. 22% utilized more traditional resources, like radio, for news and 15% looked to social media for quick updates.
During the COVID-19 outbreak almost every news outlet has decreased in utilization except for social media, which has seen the largest increase with a 15 to 28% jump. This dramatic redistribution could possibly be attributed to the urgency to receive and distribute information about the virus.
That same urgency is largely to blame for the flood of fake news that’s also followed since the virus first appeared in the U.S.
People are hungry for information, hungry for certitude, and when there is a lack of consensus-oriented information and when everything is being contested in public, that creates confusion among people.
Sometimes virus-related misinformation can come from a typically reliable news source like TV news or a trustworthy website and move to social media where the problem only escalates and spreads.
“Misinformation could be an honest mistake, or the intentions are not to blatantly mislead people,” Viswanath said.
Regardless, experts must work overtime to pierce the false media “echo chamber” that audiences may fall victim to when political and personal bias come into play.
Christopher Robichaud, a senior lecturer in ethics and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School teaches a course, “Ignorance, Lies, Hogwash and Humbug: The Value of Truth and Knowledge in Democracies,” and likens the media cocoon to cult-like thinking.
“It’s not enough to introduce new pieces of evidence. You have to break through their strategies to diminish that counter evidence, and that’s a much harder thing to do than merely exposing people to different perspectives,” he says.
Popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all made efforts to diminish the spread of misinformation, but their methods — which tend to rely heavily on artificial intelligence rather than human moderators — are less effective.
How to spot a fake news source
Bleach baths, experimental government testing theories and face mask exemption cards are just a few of the crazy COVID-19 myths circulating the internet. Here’s how you can spot a fraudulent site the next time you see an outlandish claim.
- Check the URL for suspicious misspellings and variations from credible sources.
- Examine the context including publish dates and direct quotes.
- Read past outrageous click-bait headlines even if it means skimming the entire article.
- Confirm the story with sources you can trust or use fact-checking tools like politifact.org.
We’ve got more ways that you can make sure you have your facts straight when browsing the web. Learn more with our full breakdown on how you can spot fake news and what’s being done to stop the misinformation.
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