Covid news on TV, Facebook can make you less informed

People who trust television and Facebook to provide them with accurate news about the coronavirus pandemic are less knowledgeable about Covid-19, according to a new study.

The study, led by researchers from the Pennsylvania State University in the US, showed that adults that used Facebook as an additional source of news in any way were less likely to answer Covid-19 questions correctly than those who did not.

On the other hand, the most trusted news sources were government websites (42.8 per cent), followed by television (27.2 per cent), and health system communications (9.3 per cent).

“The rise of social media has changed the way people around the world keep up with current events, with studies showing that up to 66 per cent of Americans rely on social media for news,” said Robert P. Lennon, Associate Professor of family and community medicine at the University’s College of Medicine.

“This is worrying, as misinformation and misunderstanding about Covid-19 and how it spreads is likely to have fuelled the pandemic, whose death toll now surpasses 136 million worldwide,” Lennon added.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Medical Research & Opinion, surveyed 5,948 adults in Pennsylvania, between March 25-31, 2020. The respondents answered questions about where they got their news about coronavirus from, and which news sources they trusted most.

They were then given 15 statements about Covid-19 and asked if they thought the statements were true or false, and how confident they were in their answer.

The questions covered knowledge across several domains — transmission, severity, treatment — and asked questions felt to be of easy, moderate and hard difficulty in each.

The findings highlight the importance of considering where people get their news from when it comes to designing public health interventions. Guidance such as ‘stay at home’, ‘wash your hands’, ‘wear a mask’ and ‘socially distance’ are only effective if understood, the researchers said.