Americans who consider social media influential on their perceptions about COVID-19 are far more likely than the general population to believe false and misleading information about the virus, according to a new study. Based on a survey of 3,000 U.S. adults conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the de Beaumont Foundation and pollster and communications analyst Dr. Frank Luntz, the analysis draws a direct and irrefutable correlation between Americans’ use of social media and belief of inaccurate information.
Also, people who said social media was an influential source of were 16% less likely to report that they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, respondents said TV news or their own doctor was their most influential source of information about COVID-19. But those who said that social media is a major source were far more likely to believe false and misleading statements about COVID-19.
“This is the first global virus in the era of social media and fake news,” said Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation. “This isn’t just a concern about COVID-19, but about the potential of social media as a conduit for misinformation about health or any other issue.”
Dr. Luntz added, “These results show more clearly than ever that the people who rely on social media as a primary source of information about COVID-19 — and those who use social media most frequently — are most likely to believe false information. Worse yet, it proves that people who most frequently share social media information are most likely to be misinformed.”
People who say social media is their primary sources of information about COVID-19 are far more likely to believe false information about vaccines.
The survey asked about 10 specific false or misleading statements, including these:
- The true number of people infected with coronavirus is deliberately hidden from the public.
- COVID-19 was released with the aim of destroying some of the world’s economies.
- COVID-19 is only as serious as the common flu.
- The COVID-19 vaccine could make people infertile and unable to have kids.
- These new mRNA vaccines could alter your DNA.
For each of these five statements, people who said that social media was one of their most influential sources were more than 15% more likely than the general population to agree with them. On average, 63% agreed with these five statements. But people who said doctors or state, local, or federal officials are their most influential sources of information were significantly less likely than the general population to believe them.
People’s primary source of information is correlated with their vaccination status.
In the poll, 67% said they had received at least one vaccine dose, compared with just 56% of those who said social media is one of their main sources of information.
Social media is reinforcing people’s reluctance to get vaccinated.
51% of unvaccinated respondents who named social media as a primary news source said social media was pushing them to wait or not get vaccinated. And people who share information on social media daily are more likely to agree with false statements about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Social media has become a leading source of information about COVID-19.
Nearly 70% of respondents said they use social media when seeking information about COVID-19, and 60% have shared information about the virus on social media.
The public is split about what should be done about misinformation and disinformation online.
When asked to choose between two options, 53% said social media companies should “restrict and/or remove what they determine to be misinformation or disinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines,” while 47% said companies should “leave the content about COVID-19 and the vaccines alone and let the reader/viewer decide for themselves.” There’s a partisan divide on this issue, as 69% of Biden voters said social media companies should remove content, compared with only 39% of Trump voters.
Morning Consult conducted a poll among a sample of 3,000 adults, on behalf of the de Beaumont Foundation and Dr. Frank Luntz, September 20-22, 2021. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.