Researchers have warned that the UK will be less well-positioned to deal with a coronavirus communications crisis in the months ahead, due to a larger proportion of ‘infodemically vulnerable’ citizens.
Low news consumers have grown from 6% at the start of the coronavirus crisis to 15% by late August, a report by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has revealed.
The ‘infodemically vulnerable’ are defined as those who “consume little to no news about COVID-19 from news organisations and have low trust in COVID-19 information from news organisations”.
The group, which makes up an estimated 8m people in total, highlight a larger proportion of people at risk of being less informed, uninformed or misinformed about the pandemic.
Announcing the findings, authors at Oxford University said that while ‘government by communication’ is a central part of handling the crisis to instil regulations and other formal measures, gaining the public’s support is now more difficult.
“Government by communication grows harder as fewer people follow the news or trust the government, and when many feel neither the news media nor the government are helping them navigate the crisis and how to respond to it,” said researchers Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Dr Richard Fletcher, Dr Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Felix Simon.
For a large minority group of low news consumers, the risks are greater, the report added:
“The infodemically vulnerable represent a small but significant and growing part of the population more at risk of being (at best) less informed than the public at large, and (at worst) being uninformed and more susceptible to outright misinformation.”
The report warned that unless the second wave also brings a resurgence in news use, the past six months have seen an overall decline in news use and trust and in news.
“Unless this changes, the UK will be less well positioned to deal with the coronavirus communication crisis in the months ahead, in part because it has a much larger minority of infodemically vulnerable people than earlier in the crisis.”
Those under the age of 35 were more likely to be infodemically vulnerable (20%) in August than those aged 35 and over (14%) but the group was evenly split by gender.
Overall, across the population news consumption has declined. The proportion who got news about Covid-19 at least once a day per week on average dropped by 24 percentage points from 79% in mid-April to 55% in mid-August (see below).
Meanwhile, trust in news organisations as a source of information about the pandemic has fallen 12 percentage points from 57% in April to 45% in August.
Only 61% of people think the news media have explained what they can do in response to Covid-19; similarly 58% think the same about the UK government. Both figures have fallen substantially since April.
However, most of the UK public are informed about Covid-19 as a disease, report that they have behaved cautiously and mostly followed government guidelines, the survey found overall.
The research which took an online panel survey of a representative sample of the UK population between April and August of this year, was published this week as Communications in the Coronavirus Crisis: Lessons for the Second Wave by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.