People seek COVID-19 information from a variety of sources based on sex, age, level of education, political affiliation and beliefs about the pandemic, according to a study published last week in Public Health and JMIR Oversight.
Led by researchers at New York University (NYU), the study included recruiting American adults on Facebook to complete a two-round online survey in March and April on their use of 11 different sources of coronavirus information, and their most reliable source of information.
The vast majority of the 11,242 participants who completed the study (91.2%) said they turned to traditional news sources such as television, radio, podcasts and newspapers. But the largest single source of information COVID-19 were government websites (87.6%), which were also the most trusted source (43.3%). Another major source was social media (73.6%), although participants said they trusted government information much more.
Men and those aged 40 and over reported lower levels of trust in government websites than younger participants. Those surveyed in April, compared to Mars, were less likely to use and trust government websites, while trusting other websites, radio or podcast news, and other spouses or partners more that doubled during that time. Participants in April also used, on average, 0.58 fewer resources than respondents in March.
Non-white participants were more likely than whites to consult physicians and religious leaders for information sources.
Type and number of resources, levels of knowledge
Of the 7,811 of 11,242 respondents (69.5%) who reported consulting with major media sources said that they most often used television news media such as CNN (24.0%), Fox News (19.3%) and other local stations or national (35.2%).
Republicans were more likely to rely on Fox News and less likely to consult with all other major media outlets. In contrast, participants with a bachelor’s degree or higher said they relied more on CNN and other international news networks. Respondents aged 60 and over said they relied more on Fox News and MSNBC than on international news sources.
On average, respondents used 6.1 sources of coronavirus information. Men and participants who were age 40 or older, unemployed or retired, and Republicans used fewer resources than those with children at home and a higher level of education. Respondents with a bachelor’s degree or higher were more likely than others to use all sources of information other than traditional media.
While many coronavirus-related beliefs were significantly predictive of information sources and the degree of support in mainstream media, the link between COVID-19 source and knowledge was mixed.
The use of more information sources was associated with improved awareness that wearing face masks helps prevent the spread of the virus and participants who used government websites had significantly more awareness about COVID-19 than others.
Most of the respondents in the survey were women (59.0%), white (92.7%), employed (59.5%) and living in the suburbs (51.0%).
The influence of beliefs, political affiliation
Those who relied on CNN or MSNBC tried to agree that COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal flu, the media has devoted enough coverage to the pandemic, and the virus is a bigger issue than the government suggests, while they disagreed. for that warmth the weather reduces the spread of the virus and that coronavirus is a smaller issue than media coverage suggests.
Those who consulted government websites were more likely than those who disagreed that the coronavirus was released as a terrorist act, the media exaggerated the threat of COVID-19, and warm weather slowed the spread of the virus while people watching Fox News tried to agree with those statements. He also tended to disagree that COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal flu, pandemic media coverage has been proportionate to the problem, and coronavirus is a bigger issue than the government has suggested.
The authors said understanding the development of coronavirus information, the channels used for distribution, and the target populations is important to be able to convince the public that blockages and other public health measures that can cause significant social disruption are needed to contain the virus. Targeted messages through trusted sources can also help counteract widespread misinformation on the Internet.
“The source of COVID-19 information was significantly determined by the socio-demographic characteristics of the participants and was also associated with knowledge and beliefs about the pandemic,” the authors write. “The findings of the study can help inform COVID-19 health communication campaigns and highlight the impact of using a variety of different and reliable sources of information.”
Lead author Shahmir Ali, a doctoral student at NYU, said at a university Press release that public health officials must work to ensure that COVID-19 information reaches different populations.
“We have already started to see this, for example, through initiatives by social media platforms to connect users with COVID-19 information while they are using these applications,” Ali said. “Our research provides essential evidence to drive these kinds of initiatives to get COVID-19 information to the public in a way that matches the resources they already use and trust.”
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