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Covid-19 stress levels drive your belief in social media misinformation: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on December 14, 2020 Published on December 14, 2020

Recent survey analysis revealed that the more people consume social media as their main news source, the more likely they are to believe misinformation about Covid-19.

The survey, conducted by Washington State University researcher Yan Su and published in the journal Telematics and Informatics, stated that stress levels related to Covid-19 increase the likelihood of people believing in misinformation.

The researchers also mentioned two factors that can weaken beliefs in false information. This includes having faith in scientists and a preference for “discussion heterogeneity,” meaning people liked talking with others who held different views.

Su, a doctoral student in WSU’s Murrow College of Communications, said in a statement: “Fact-checkers are important for social media platforms to implement. When there is no fact-checker, people just choose to believe what is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs.

“It’s also important for people to try to get out of their comfort zones and echo chambers by talking with people who have different points of view and political ideologies. When people are exposed to different ideas, they have a chance to do some self-reflection and self-correction.”

For the study, Su gathered responses from the 2020 American National Election Studies Exploratory Testing Survey, which was conducted during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 3,080 people who took part in the study, a little over 480 said they believed at least one of two pieces of misinformation about Covid-19 — that the coronavirus was developed intentionally in a lab and that there was currently a vaccine for the virus. The respondents were also asked to rate how confident they were in these beliefs.

He further found an amplification effect from social media users who were particularly worried about the coronavirus.

Social media trigger

“It seems that the more you use social media, the more likely you become worried about Covid-19, perhaps because there is a lot of unfounded and conspiracy theories on social media. Then this, in turn, can trigger a higher level of worry which leads to further belief in misinformation,” Su said.

Su said more research is needed to assess the continued proliferation of false and misleading stories around the pandemic.

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Published on December 14, 2020
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