A new survey has revealed how during the Covid-19 crisis people are more trusting of news sites than information found on digital platforms.
The survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looked at how citizens were finding information on the coronavirus in six countries including the UK.
In the UK the survey found that around two thirds of those surveyed trusted the information from the news media. The highest level of trust was for information from health experts and scientists.
The research collected new survey data and provides an analysis of how people in six countries – Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the US – access and rate different sources of news and information about coronavirus, who they trust, and how much they know about the disease.
Overall, the survey found that most people rely on news, trust the news, and that those who use news media as a source of information know more about the disease than others.
The survey also found that although most people rely on platforms, they trust them less than they trust news media.
The report was published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism as part of the Oxford Martin Programme on Misinformation, Science and Media, a three-year research collaboration between the Reuters Institute, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the Oxford Martin School.
In all countries covered, people with lower levels of formal education were found to know less about the disease, and they tended to use news media less and trust them less. In several countries, there are also high levels of political polarisation influencing what sources people rely on, what sources they trust, and, in part therefore, how much they know about the disease.
The data was collected in late March and early April 2020 to document and understand how people in the six countries accessed news and information about Covid-19 in the early stages of the global pandemic, how they rated the trustworthiness of the different sources and platforms they relied on, how much misinformation they say they encountered, and their knowledge of and responses to the coronavirus crisis.
The survey revealed:
- News use is up across all six countries, and most people in most countries are using either social media, search engines, video sites, and messaging applications (or combinations of these) to get news and information about coronavirus.
- A majority of respondents in every country say that the news media have helped them understand the crisis and explain what they can do. However, about one in three also say they feel the news media have exaggerated the pandemic.
- In all six countries, people with low levels of formal education are much less likely to say that they rely on news organisations for news and information about coronavirus, and more likely to rely on social media and messaging applications. In Argentina, South Korea, Spain, and the US, young people are much more likely to rely on social media, and in Germany, the UK, and the US, to rely on messaging applications groups.
- In every country covered, very high numbers of people across age groups, levels of education, and political views rate scientists, doctors, and other health experts as trustworthy sources of information about coronavirus. Three-quarters of respondents trust national or international public health organisations, a majority of respondents rate news organisations relatively trustworthy, and in every country apart from Spain and the United States a majority rates their national government trustworthy as well.
- While levels of trust in scientists and experts are consistently high there are significant political differences in trust in news organisations and in the government, especially in the United States, where people on the left of the political spectrum trust news organisations much more than they trust the government, and people on the right trust the government much more than they trust news organisations.
- When asked how trustworthy they find news and information about coronavirus from different platforms, most respondents rate platforms less trustworthy than experts, health authorities, and news organisations. Results vary significantly across different types of platforms. Averaged across the six countries, the ‘trust gap’ between information from news organisations and information from social media is 33 percentage points, between news and video sites 30 percentage points, and between news and messaging applications 35 percentage points. The gap is 14 percentage points on average between news and search engines.
- Asked how much false or misleading information about coronavirus, if any, people think they have seen from different sources and platforms, four overall findings stood out.
- First, for every source and every platform in every country covered, it is a minority who say they have come across a lot or a great deal of false or misleading information around coronavirus.
- Second, among sources, ‘bottom-up’ false or misleading misinformation spread by ordinary people whom respondents do not know personally is most widely identified (though in South Korea, Spain, and the US respondents say individual politicians generate large volumes of ‘top-down’ misinformation). On average about a third say they have seen a lot or a great deal of false or misleading bottom-up misinformation in the last week.
- Third, among platforms, concern is focused on social media and messaging applications, where on average about a third of respondents say they have seen a lot or a great deal of false or misleading information in the last week.
- Fourth, while concern about false or misleading information about coronavirus from news organisations and national government is less widespread than concerns over ordinary people, social media, messaging applications, and in some countries individual politicians, a significant majority are still worried – about a quarter on average for both news and government.
The report can be read here.