Trust in COVID Info Sources Varies by Demographics, Beliefs

While many coronavirus-related beliefs were significantly predictive of information sources and degree of reliance on mainstream media, the link between source and COVID-19 knowledge was mixed.

Use of more information sources was linked to improved awareness that wearing face coverings helps impede spread of the virus, and participants who used government websites had significantly more COVID-19 awareness than others.

Most survey respondents were women (59.0%), white (92.7%), employed (59.5%), and living in suburbs (51.0%).

Influence of Beliefs, Political Affiliation
Those who relied on CNN or MSNBC tended to agree that COVID-19 is deadlier than seasonal flu, the media has devoted the right amount of coverage to the pandemic, and the virus is a bigger issue than the government suggests, while they disagreed that warm weather reduces virus spread and that coronavirus is a smaller issue than media coverage suggests.

Those who consulted government websites were more likely than those who didn’t to disagree that the coronavirus was released as a terroristic act, the media exaggerated the threat of COVID-19, and warm weather slows the spread of the virus, while people who watched Fox News tended to agree with those statements. The also tended to disagree that COVID-19 is deadlier than seasonal flu, the media coverage of the pandemic has been proportional to the problem, and the coronavirus is a bigger issue than the government has suggested.

The authors said that understanding the development of coronavirus information, the channels used for dissemination, and the populations targeted is important to be able to convince the public that lockdowns and other public health measures—which can cause substantial social disruptions—are needed to contain the virus. Targeted messages through trusted sources can also help counter misinformation spread over the Internet.

COVID-19 information source was significantly determined by participant sociodemographic characteristics and was also associated with both knowledge and beliefs about the pandemic,” the authors wrote. “Study findings can help inform COVID-19 health communication campaigns and highlight the impact of using a variety of different and trusted information sources.”

Lead author Shahmir Ali, a doctoral student at NYU, said in a university press release that public health officials need to work to ensure that COVID-19 information reaches diverse populations.

We have already started to see this, for instance, through initiatives by social media platforms to connect users with COVID-19 information while they are using these apps,” Ali said. “Our research provides crucial evidence to push for these types of initiatives to get COVID-19 information out to the public in a manner that matches what sources they already use and trust.”

Mary Van Beusekom is a news writer at CIDRAP. This article  is published courtesy of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy (CIDRAP).