At the Pandemic’s Start, Facebook Users Shared More News Links Than Healthcare Sources

Despite several initiatives by the social network, just 1% linked to scientific organizations

facebook logo with coronavirus behind it
The average coronavirus-related Facebook post with a news link tallied 2,713 interactions in Pew's study. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Facebook, Getty Images
Headshot of David Cohen

Facebook users who posted about the Covid-19 pandemic during its early stages in the U.S. linked to far more news sources than healthcare and science sites, according to new analysis from the Pew Research Center that looked at public posts made in March.

Those news sources included the sites of (in order of total interactions) TV stations, digitally native news organizations, print publications, news aggregators, radio stations/podcasts and wire services.

Facebook users prioritizing sharing coronavirus content would match the trend of publishers seeing record traffic surrounding their pandemic coverage in the early days of the outbreak.

The think tank identified roughly 6.5 million English-language posts on the social network, including public pages and groups, that matched a set of coronavirus-related keywords.

On average, these posts also saw high engagement, tallying an average of 2,713 interactions including comments, likes, reactions and shares. That was more than double the engagement for posts with links to healthcare and science sites, according to the study.

“Posts tracked with real-world events and tended to dip each weekend,” the organization said in a statement. By the end of March, there were about eight times more posts about the coronavirus and Covid-19 than at the beginning.

Only 1% of the posts in Pew’s study linked to health and science sites, including those of public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as those of doctors, hospitals and other medical entities.

The low number of posts in this category comes despite extensive efforts by Facebook to direct users to credible information from national health authorities and global organizations, including the CDC and the World Health Organization:

Pew Research Center

The think tank found that 74% of posts in its study mentioned Covid-19 linked to news organizations, and those posts averaged 3,017 interactions, or 29% more than the next category, which was nonprofit and research organizations.

Among other findings:

  • TV (28%) and digitally native publishers (24%) were the most frequently linked news orgs
  • 15% linked to websites of print newspapers and magazines
  • 21% linked to local sources, such as newspapers and radio or TV stations
  • Only 7% of posts focused on specific cities, states or other local areas
  • 14% focused on areas in countries outside of the U.S.
  • 79% did not have a clear geographic focus
Pew Research Center

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