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Why do people share misinformation about Covid-19? Partly because they’re distracted
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June 29, 2020, 2:59 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.journalism.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   June 29, 2020

A Pew Research Center study published Monday paints a scary picture about the American public’s coronavirus news consumption habits: as infection hotspots rise around the country, fewer are following news about the virus closely.

In a study conducted among 9,654 Americans earlier this month, Pew found that only 39 percent of people are following the story “very closely,” down 18 percent from 57 percent in late March. (At the same time, only 42 percent of people said they were following the Black Lives Matter protest stories very closely at the beginning of June.)

In terms of trusted sources for information, 64 percent of Americans said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets the facts right “almost all or most of the time,” while only 30 percent said the same about the Trump administration. The general news media falls in the middle at 44 percent.

Those views shift across political affiliations. Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents ranked the Trump administration as the most trustworthy, followed by the CDC. The news media ranked last for them. Democrats and Democrat-leaning respondents trusted the CDC the most, followed by state governments and local media. They ranked the Trump administration last.

Americans who rely on Trump and the government’s task force for information were more likely to think that the pandemic has been overhyped or exaggerated (68 percent) compared to people who rely on any other news source (33 percent).

The study also found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say that they have a difficult time “discerning truth in COVID-19 news.” In addition, Republicans were more likely to observe partisanship in news about the virus.

Then there’s the viral (and false) Plandemic video, which among other things claims that COVID-19 was intentionally planned by powerful people:

71% of Americans say they have heard at least “a little” about a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus outbreak was intentionally planned by powerful people, including 19% who say they have heard “a lot” about this. Roughly three-in-ten (28%) say they have not heard about this unsubstantiated claim.

A sizable portion of Americans who have heard this conspiracy theory say it is likely true. Of those who have heard at least something about it, 36% say it is “definitely” or “probably” true — equivalent to a quarter of all U.S. adults. Most of these people, however, do not go so far as to say it is definitely true (8% of those who have heard about it, or 5% of all Americans).

Americans who rely most on Trump for COVID-19 news were also most likely to believe the conspiracy theory that the virus was planned: “56% of those in this group who have heard about the theory say it is definitely or probably true,” the report’s authors note. About 17 percent of people who often get their news from social media said they watched at least part of it, compared with the nine percent that get COVID-19 news on social media less frequently.

Read the full report here.

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