Belief in Covid-19 ‘Facts’ Differs Based on Media Preferences
Views of conspiracy theories and established facts vary based on use of social, conservative and mainstream media, survey finds
A survey of Americans’ knowledge of Covid-19 revealed that 23% believed it was “probably or definitely true that the Chinese had created the virus as a bioweapon.” Meanwhile, 21% thought vitamin C “can probably or definitely prevent infection by the coronavirus.” There is no credible evidence for either of those claims, scientists say.
The survey of 1,008 adults, released April 24, was conducted March 3–8 on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While views may have changed since then, given the volume of coronavirus coverage, the survey revealed notable differences in beliefs based on the type of media people consumed.
People who used social media (including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) were more likely than others to believe:
- The vitamin C claim
- That some people in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exaggerated the threat of Covid-19 to harm President Trump
- That the virus was created by the U.S. government
People who consumed conservative media, including Fox News or Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, were more likely than others to believe:
- The vitamin C claim
- That some people in the CDC exaggerated the threat to harm President Trump
- That the Chinese government created the virus as a bioweapon
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, originated in bats and crossed over to humans, scientists say. The “evidence” put forward to suggest the virus was engineered by humans comes from non-peer-reviewed papers and disreputable websites, according to Snopes, a widely respected fact-checking site that did a thorough review of the claims.
People who consumed mainstream broadcast media (including ABC, CBS and NBC news broadcasts) were more likely to correctly believe that Covid-19 is more lethal than the seasonal flu. That claim is supported by research, though a conclusive death rate for Covid-19 has not been determined, given the unknown number of people who have had the disease without symptoms.
People who consumed mainstream print media (including The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal) were more likely than others to believe that “regular hand washing and avoiding contact with symptomatic people are ways to prevent infection with the coronavirus.” Those claims are absolutely true, according to the CDC and any health expert or scientists knowledgeable on the subject.
Overall, 87% of the survey respondents agreed with the benefits of hand-washing and physical distancing.
The Annenberg researchers say the results argue for more proactive communication from health officials about prevention, in particular to battle the most widely held misconceptions. The researchers suggest health experts should do more interviews on conservative media, for example, and health agencies should consider placing public service announcements there.