Americans who rely on social media for their political news are more likely to report seeing misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on those platforms, according to new research from think tank Pew Research Center.
Pew conducted a survey of 8,914 U.S. adults between March 10 and March 16 and found that 18% of them most commonly get their news via social media. That group tended to be younger, were more likely to be Hispanic and were less interested in political news.
Among members of that group who are interested in political news, however, just 37% are following news about the coronavirus pandemic very closely, well behind those who rely on cable television (65%) or local TV and radio (44%).
Pew also found that over half of those who turn to social platforms for political news said they encountered made-up news about COVID-19, despite efforts by those platforms to curb misinformation.
People expressed those sentiments despite the extensive measures major social platforms have put in place to prevent or severely limit the spread of misinformation.
When claims related to the coronavirus are deemed inaccurate by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, distribution of that content is limited on Facebook and Instagram, and users are guided to accurate information from credible sources.
The social network is also removing content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by global health organizations and local health authorities from both Facebook and Instagram.
And Instagram is removing accounts related to COVID-19 from recommendations and only including related content from credible health organizations in its Explore tab.
Meanwhile, Twitter is requiring users to remove tweets that increase the chances of someone contracting or transmitting the virus, including denial of guidance provided by experts; encouraging people to use fake or ineffective treatments, preventions and diagnostic techniques; and misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities.
Twitter is also working with global public health authorities to dole out more of its blue verification checkmarks to experts who can provide credible updates on the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Pew, 70% of the group that relies on social networks for news believes that the media greatly or slightly exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus, compared with 69% who get their news from radio and 67% who do so from news sites.
Pew found that 80% of social media news consumers have been following the outbreak at least fairly closely, which sounds high, but not when compared with those who primarily get news from cable TV (95%), national TV (94%) and news websites (92%).
The think tank took another interesting angle, asking respondents when they believe a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available.
Social media news consumers were the second-lowest group by percentage to fall in line with the consensus by public health experts that a vaccine is at least a year away, trailed only by those who get news from local TV.
And one-third of both social media and local TV news consumers were not sure.
Social media news consumers also were the most likely to say that the coronavirus was created in a lab, either intentionally or unintentionally, which Pew attributed to younger respondents being more likely to believe this, regardless of how they consume their news.