Gender, age, education level, and political affiliation predict where people turn for information about COVID-19 – and the sources they find, according to a new study from the NYU School of Global Public Health. they use and trust are linked to different beliefs about the pandemic. researchers.
The results – drawn from surveys of more than 11,000 American adults in the first few months of the pandemic – are published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance.
“Our study is one of the first data-driven efforts to not only reflect on what is being said across different sources of COVID-19 information, but who uses which source, who trusts which source, and what real impact. this has. on knowledge and beliefs about the pandemic, ”said Shahmir Ali, a doctoral student at the NYU School of Global Public Health and lead author of the study.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need to communicate health information to the public, but how can public health officials best reach people, given the myriad of channels available? In March 2020, as it became clear that the coronavirus was spreading in the United States, researchers at NYU created and deployed an online survey to assess how people got their information about COVID-19. The survey was based on a model used to study sources of information during previous SARS and Ebola outbreaks.
Using Facebook to recruit 11,242 American adults in all 50 states, the researchers interviewed one group of participants in March and another in April. The survey asked what sources people use and trust for information about COVID-19: traditional media (TV, newspapers and radio), social media, government websites, other websites, personal connections (family, friends and partners), health professionals. , and religious leaders.
The researchers also measured participants’ knowledge (for example, whether masks, hand sanitizer, and avoiding school and work can protect you from the coronavirus) and beliefs (for example, the virus was released as an act of bioterrorism) on COVID-19.
When combined, traditional media sources – television, radio or newspapers – were the biggest sources of information about COVID-19, with 91.2% of those surveyed turning to at least one. Popular media included CNN (24 percent of those using traditional media sources), FOX News (19.3 percent), and other local or national networks (35.2 percent).
After traditional media, government websites (87.6%) and social media (73.6%) were the most common sources of information about COVID-19, although participants said they trusted much more government than social media: 43.3% cited government as the most trusted source. information, compared to 1.2% for social media. It should be noted that trust in government websites varied by demographics – men and people 40 and older were less likely to trust government – and has weakened over time. Researchers measured a dramatic drop in the number of people citing government websites as the most trusted source, from 53.3% in March to 36.8% in April.
“Perceptions and use of information sources can vary at different stages of a health crisis,” said study author Yesim Tozan, assistant professor of global health at the NYU School of Global Public Health . “Public health officials need to continuously monitor public perceptions and trust and need to adapt their communication strategies as needed to keep them effective.”
The study also found that people use an average of six different sources to gather information about COVID-19 – although they tend to use more sources in March than in April. Participants with children and more educated were likely to use more sources, while those who were male, aged 40 and over, not working or retired, or Republicans were likely to use fewer sources. sources.
“Twenty-five years ago people got their information by picking up the newspaper or watching the evening news, but now people get information from various sources. While this can have advantages, many online sources are unverified and can spread misinformation, leaving it to you as a consumer to resolve it, ”said Ralph DiClemente, chair of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department. behavioral studies from the NYU School of Global Public Health and lead author of the study. Other authors of the study include postdoctoral associate Joshua Foreman and doctoral students Ariadna Capasso and Abbey Jones of the NYU School of Global Public Health.
The association between the sources participants used and their knowledge of COVID-19 was mixed. The use of certain sources of information, such as health professionals and traditional media, was associated with better knowledge in some areas but less in others.
However, many beliefs about COVID-19 have been predicted by the information sources people use. For example, those relying on CNN or MSNBC were more likely to agree that the coronavirus is deadlier than the flu, that media attention on the coronavirus has been adequate, and that the coronavirus is a more serious problem than it does. suggests the government. Conversely, those relying on FOX News were more likely to agree that the coronavirus was published as an act of bioterrorism, warmer weather will reduce the spread of the coronavirus and the coronavirus is not such a serious problem. as the media suggest.
“As public health professionals, it is important that we consider targeting the sources of information used and approved by certain population groups to ensure that COVID-19 information reaches a diverse audience,” Ali added. . “We’ve already started to see this, for example, through initiatives of social media platforms to connect users with COVID-19 information while they use these apps. Our research provides crucial evidence to push these types of initiatives to get COVID-19. information to the public in a way that matches the sources they already use and trust.