COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs increased among users of conservative and social media

Conspiracy beliefs decline among mainstream news readers, study finds

Newswise — PHILADELPHIA - Belief in conspiracies about the COVID-19 pandemic increased through the early months of the U.S. outbreak among people who reported being heavy users of conservative and social media, a study by Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) researchers has found.

Prior APPC research found that people who regularly used conservative or social media during the early months of the pandemic were more likely to report believing in a group of COVID-19 conspiracies. The current study expands on that, finding that a reliance on conservative or social media actually predicted an increase in conspiracy beliefs from March to July 2020.

From March to July 2020, for example, the share of conservative media users who reported believing that the Chinese government created the coronavirus as a bioweapon rose from 52% to 66%. Conservative media included sources such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart News, One America News, and the Drudge Report.

Further, these increases in conspiracy beliefs were associated with less mask wearing and decreased intentions to get a vaccine when it became available, according to the study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

"The media played a role in the promotion or reduction of conspiracy beliefs," said Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the study with APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson. "There were media sources that hindered the ability of the country to confront the pandemic."

Although some social media platforms said they downgraded or removed false or misleading content about the pandemic, the ongoing use of social media was also correlated with an increased belief in COVID-19 conspiracies.

"The major social media platforms are playing Whac-A-Mole with COVID conspiracy purveyors," Jamieson said. "Block their imaginings in one place and they reappear in another."

A Chinese bioweapon and other COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs

The researchers conducted an Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) survey using a national U.S. probability sample in March 2020 and again in July 2020 with the same group of 840 adults. The respondents were asked about three conspiracy beliefs, media use, steps taken to prevent the spread of the virus, and their intentions to be vaccinated, among other things.

In July, the researchers found these levels of overall acceptance of the conspiracy beliefs, with the overall sample rating them either "definitely true" or "probably true":

  • 17% of U.S. adults reported believing that "the pharmaceutical industry created the coronavirus to increase sales of its drugs and vaccines," up from 15% in March;
  • 32% reported believing that some in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "are exaggerating the danger posed by the coronavirus to damage the Trump presidency," up from 24% in March; and
  • 38% reported believing that "the coronavirus was created by the Chinese government as a biological weapon," up from 28% in March. 

From March to July 2020, conservative media users' belief that the pharmaceutical industry created the virus rose from 13% to 28%, and that some in the CDC were exaggerating the danger of the virus to damage the Trump presidency went from 34% to 61%.

In 2020, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for instance, frequently discussed the conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus was bioengineered in a Chinese lab. And Rush Limbaugh alleged that "the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump" and that "it probably is a ChiCom [Chinese Communist] laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized."

Mainstream news sources

While the use of conservative media and social media were associated with increased belief in conspiracies, use of the mainstream print media had the opposite association. The researchers found that regular use of the mainstream print media such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post predicted a decline in these conspiracy beliefs, which was related to greater mask wearing and greater intentions to get vaccinated.

"When mainstream news treats conspiracy theories, it is to raise concerns about the effects of accepting them, not to legitimize them," Romer said.

People who relied on mainstream television news (such as ABC, NBC, and CBS News) didn't exhibit any change in their beliefs in conspiracies after controlling for their other media use. "People who get a lot of information from mainstream TV news were also more likely to want to be vaccinated and were more likely to wear masks, but that wasn't related to whether or not they believed in conspiracies," said Romer. "It operated independently."

The findings illustrate the importance of mainstream broadcast TV news in informing the country about effective means of confronting the pandemic during the months from March to July 2020.

The media and public health authorities

The researchers suggested that the findings "point to the need for greater efforts on the part of commentators, reporters, and guests on conservative media to report verifiable information about the pandemic. The results also suggest that social media platforms need to be more aggressive in downgrading, blocking, and counteracting claims about COVID-19 vaccines, claims about mask wearing, and conspiracy beliefs that have been judged problematic by public health authorities."

At the same time, the researchers said, public health authorities seeking to prevent the spread of the virus "should seek opportunities to present accurate information about the pandemic to users" of conservative and social media. Reaching users of mainstream news media is also important because they were "either less likely to subscribe to conspiracy beliefs (in the case of print) or more likely to adopt protective behavior (in the case of broadcast television news)."

###

"Patterns of Media Use, Strength of Belief in COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories, and the Prevention of COVID-19 From March to July 2020 in the United States: Survey Study" was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research on April 27, 2021.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center was established in 1993 to educate the public and policy makers about communication's role in advancing public understanding of political, science, and health issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5849
13-Jun-2021 12:05 PM EDT
COVID-19 Pandemic Drinking: Increases Among Women, Black Adults, and People with Children
Research Society on Alcoholism

Risky drinking has been a public health concern in the U.S. for decades, but the significant increase in retail alcohol sales following COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders in particular raised red flags for alcohol researchers. New research has assessed changes in alcohol drinking patterns from before to after the enactment of stay-at-home orders. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

13-Jun-2021 1:05 PM EDT
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol Consumption Is Far From ‘One Size Fits All’
Research Society on Alcoholism

An ongoing analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol and related outcomes shows that COVID-related stressors experienced by study participants – including work-, financial-, and family-related stressors – are having a varied impact on individuals with and without alcohol use disorders (AUDs). These results will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newswise:Video Embedded newswise-expert-panels-on-covid-19-pandemic-notable-excerpts-quotes-and-videos-available
VIDEO
Released: 18-Jun-2021 2:10 PM EDT
Newswise Expert Panels on COVID-19 Pandemic: Notable excerpts, quotes and videos available
Newswise

Newswise is hosting a series of Expert Panels discussion on unique aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tip sheet includes some notable quotes from the panelists.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 23-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 18-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 23-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise:Video Embedded virtual-event-for-june-17-11am-edt-covid-19-vaccines-and-male-fertility
VIDEO
Released: 18-Jun-2021 8:55 AM EDT
VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE: Vaccines and Male Fertility Event for June 17, 2021
Newswise

This upcoming JAMA-published study examined whether the COVID-19 vaccine impacts male fertility.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 22-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 18-Jun-2021 8:30 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 22-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
Teamwork saves lives: COVID-19 hospital network shares key findings to improve care
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Data sharing among 40 Michigan hospitals about the care and outcomes for thousands of inpatients with COVID-19 has led to reduced variation and findings that could inform care anywhere, including approaches for preventing blood clots and reducing overuse of antibiotics, as well as a risk prediction tool.

Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
One-third of older Americans delayed health care over COVID concerns
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Nearly one in three Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 put off an in-person appointment for medical care in 2020 because they were worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, new national poll data show.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:15 PM EDT
UNC Researchers Lead Study of Diabetes Treatment of COVID-19 Patients
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Diabetes is one of the comorbidities most strongly associated with severe COVID-19 in the US, and data from early in the pandemic suggested individuals with type 2 diabetes faced twice the risk of death from COVID-19 and a greater risk of requiring hospitalization and intensive care. A new study shows best treatment options.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:10 PM EDT
Vaccination, Previous Infection, Protect Against COVID-19 gamma/P.1 Variant in Animal Model
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a new study using variant virus recovered from one of the original travelers, researchers in the U.S. and Japan have found that vaccination with an mRNA vaccine induces antibody responses that would protect humans from infection with the gamma/P.1 variant.


Showing results

110 of 5849

close
1.46961