- Survey shows nearly a quarter of Americans believe the coronavirus originated in Chinese lab.
- One in five adults feel the outbreak is being over-exaggerated as a means to bring down President Trump’s chances at reelection.
- Social media, conservative news linked to belief in misinformation or conspiracy theories about the virus.
PHILADELPHIA — Where do you usually get your news? If the answer is a conservative media outlet, you’re more likely to believe COVID-19 misinformation or conspiracy theories, according to a new study just released by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The study also found a similar connection regarding social media use and belief in false coronavirus stories.
Over a thousand adults were surveyed in the beginning of March on their news and media consumption habits and beliefs regarding the coronavirus.
All in all, a significant correlation between conservative news consumption and belief in various COVID-19 myths was observed. Such conspiracies include the theory that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab for use as a bioweapon; the notion that the CDC has exaggerated the threat posed by COVID-19 to damage Donald Trump’s chances of being re-elected; and the belief that enough vitamin C can make a person immune to the coronavirus.
Additionally, surveyed adults who frequently used platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc, were more likely to believe similar theories (vitamin C leads to immunity, the virus was created by the U.S. government). Interestingly, adults who reported usually using web aggregators (Google News, Yahoo! News) were less likely to believe that hand-washing and social distancing were effective ways to avoid contracting COVID-19. Granted, at the time this survey was held we didn’t know as much as we do now about the coronavirus’ nature.
Conversely, respondents who reported watching mostly broadcast news (CBS, ABC, NBC) were more likely to accurately believe that the coronavirus is more dangerous than the seasonal flu. Adults who usually turn to mainstream print news (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal) were also much more likely to hold factual beliefs on the virus and disregard conspiracies about Chinese labs or targeted attempts to hurt President Trump’s reputation.
“Because both information and misinformation can affect behavior, we all ought be doing our part not only to increase essential knowledge about SARS-CoV-2, but also to interdict the spread of deceptions about its origins, prevention, and effects,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), in a statement. “Additionally, all forms of media should ask, Are our audiences better prepared to deal with this coronavirus as a result of our work or is their trust in us endangering them and their communities?”
In total, 87% of the 1,008 surveyed adults said that hand-washing and social distancing were effective against the virus. However, 23% believed at the time of the survey that it was “probably or definitely true” that the virus came from a Chinese lab. Another 21% thought vitamin C would offer immunity and 19% held the opinion that the virus was being over-exaggerated to hurt Trump. Finally, 10% felt it was “probably or definitely true” that the U.S. government created COVID-19.
The research team also made a number of recommendations on how to address this concerning trend. One of those suggestions was for newspaper websites to do away with paywalls for coronavirus coverage. If The Washington Post, New York Times, and similar outlets made their content more widely available, it could help curb the spread of misinformation.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also contributed to this research.
The study is published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.