Joining the growing body of evidence for social media being the primary source of fake news around coronavirus, a new study has found that people who relied on social media or conservative news outlets in early days of the COVID-19 outbreak were more likely to be misinformed about how to prevent the virus and believe conspiracy theories about it.
The Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) survey on COVID-19 was conducted in early March, among a nationally representative sample of 1,008 US adults, the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US said.
The study, published in the journal Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, found that there were notable differences in views about the coronavirus that correlated with people's media consumption.
According to the researchers, conservative media usage (such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh) correlated with higher levels of misinformation and belief in conspiracies about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
The survey found that more than 23 per cent people thought it was probably or definitely true that the Chinese had created the virus as a bioweapon (there is no evidence of this).
More than 21 per cent participants thought taking vitamin C can probably or definitely prevent infection by the coronavirus (it does not).
Social media and web aggregator usage was associated with lower levels of information and higher levels of misinformation, the researchers added.
People who used social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) were more likely to believe that taking vitamin C can prevent infection with the coronavirus; that some in the CDC were exaggerating the threat to harm the president and that the virus was created by the US government.
People who used web aggregators (such as Google News, Yahoo News) were less likely to believe in the effectiveness of handwashing and avoidance of symptomatic individuals as ways to prevent transmission of the virus (in early March, the asymptomatic transmission was less clear).
Mainstream broadcast and print media usage correlated with higher levels of the correct information and lower levels of misinformation, the study said.
People who reported using broadcast news (such as ABC News, CBS News, NBC News) were more likely to say, correctly, that the novel coronavirus is more lethal than the seasonal flu, it added.
People who consume mainstream print news (such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal) were more likely to hold accurate beliefs about the virus.
They were more likely to report that they believe that regular hand washing and avoiding contact with symptomatic people are ways to prevent infection with the coronavirus; and less likely to believe that vitamin C can prevent infection.
"Because both information and misinformation can affect behaviour, 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," said study co-author Kathleen Hall Jamieson.