Conservative media and social networking sites are contributing to the spread of COVID-19 misinformation

Misinformation on COVID-19 making the rounds on social networking sites is more likely to have originated from conservative media outlets, new research suggests.

3 min read

Since the dawn of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, misinformation echoed on social networking sites, leading to the formation of conspiracy theories through the mass media.

According to a new study, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, misinformation making the rounds on social networking sites are more likely to have originated from conservative media outlets, compared to other forms of news media.

The new Annenberg findings, as published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, also led to the assumption that television coverage and print news from mainstream media outlets have been considered to be the most reliable throughout the pandemic.

Conservative media coverage, particularly by notable right-leaning figures, often resulted in the endorsement of conspiracy theories and misinformation on how to prevent the virus, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In the study, conservative media consumption correlated with the belief that SARS-CoV-2 was a bioweapon created by the Chinese government. Exposure to conservative media was also associated with the backlash toward the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for purportedly exaggerating the severity of the outbreak in an effort to shake up the U.S. President’s time in office, the study affirmed.

In an additional instance of misinformation, the findings noted that the spread of using vitamin C as a therapeutic intervention for those infected by the coronavirus correlated with conservative media usage.

Moreover, when the research group probed the use of social networking sites, they found higher instances of misinformation in the majority of platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Those who held the belief that vitamin C served as a form of treatment, asserted negative views of the CDC, and theorized that the virus was purposefully created, were likely social media consumers.

Broadcast news outlets, like NBC and CBS News, reported more accurate information on the pandemic. The same was evident among mainstream print news, like the New York Times, the team of researchers concluded.

“Because both information and misinformation can affect behavior, we all ought be doing our part not only to increase essential knowledge about SARS-CoV-2, but also to interdict the spread of deceptions about its origins, prevention, and effects,” said Kathleen Jamieson, the Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, in an online statement.

The new research was funded by the Science of Science Communication Endowment of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Ken Winneg, Ph.D., the Managing Director of Survey Research at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania (APPC), also contributed to the study.

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