How Covid-19 news sources/misinformation changed from week 1 to 67

Ofcom: In week 67 of pandemic public still hungry for coronavirus news but misinformation still widespread

Covid-19 news sources

Eight in ten people were still accessing news about Covid-19 daily last month, 16 months on from the start of the pandemic.

At the end of March 2020, the start of the UK’s first lockdown, 99% of the online over-16 population were reading, viewing or listening to Covid-19 news every day.

By the start of July 2021, this had fallen to 81%.

Ofcom commissioned regular surveys of around 2,000 people about Covid-19 news consumption since March last year, initially weekly and then monthly. The survey is representative of the 87% of the UK’s population that is online.

Far fewer people said they were trying to avoid Covid-19 news – 59% of respondents last March compared to 41% now.

And the so-called mainstream media became more trusted, with 62% saying it was exaggerating the seriousness of Covid-19 last March compared to 50% now.

Covid-19 news sources

Asked which sources of news and information people used, every category went down between March 2020 and July 2021 alongside the number seeking news every day.

The number getting information from officials in the previous week declined by the most percentage points – from 52% to 31% – possibly reflecting the keenness for officials at the start of the pandemic and the now-defunct daily televised press briefings.

Traditional broadcasters, newspapers and radio stations were collectively used by 93% of people in the first week of the March 2020 lockdown. At the start of July they were still used by 84% of respondents, 62% of whom said traditional media was their most important news source.

[Read more: First week of Ofcom research showed more people turning to national media during lockdown]

TV remained the biggest medium, with use falling from 80% to 65%, while use of newspaper brands in print and online fell from 43% to 27% and radio fell from 34% to 27%.

BBC services continued to be used by two-thirds of people, compared to 82% last March, while non-BBC broadcasters saw usage fall from 56% to 42%.

BBC TV remained by far the most important source of information for people throughout the pandemic, despite a dip from 36% to 25% of people who said it was their most important source.

BBC online was the second most important, named by 12% and then 11% of people.

Evolution of Covid-19 misinformation

Far fewer people said they had come across Covid-19 misinformation in the previous week - 46% at the end of March 2020 and 25% in July this year.

But a similar number said they found it hard to identify what was true or false about coronavirus (42% vs 41%).

In the first survey, carried out between 27 and 29 March 2020, the most common pieces of information people came across (from a list compiled by Ofcom) were all around claims of Covid-19 cures/immune boosters:

  • Drinking water more frequently (seen by 35%)
  • Gargling with salt water (24%)
  • Eating warm food/drink and avoiding cold food/drink (24%)
  • Increasing use of natural remedies such as colloidal silver, essential oils, garlic, MMS (chlorine dioxide) or vitamin C (22%)
  • Putting clothes in the sun to disinfect them (11%)
  • Drinking more lemon juice (10%)

The study shows how misinformation has developed since the first days of the pandemic. These were the most common claims seen by participants from Ofcom’s suggested list:

  • Face masks offer no protection or are harmful (seen by 20%)
  • The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 is in reality much lower than the number reported (18%)
  • The coronavirus vaccine may cause infertility (18%)
  • The number of coronavirus cases is much lower than the figures being reported (16%)
  • The vaccine is a cover for a plan to implant trackable microchips into people (15%)

About the same number did nothing after seeing what they suspected to be false or misleading information (54% and 55%). A slightly smaller number sought tips from trusted media such as the BBC (15% fell to 11%).

However more people this year went on to use fact-checking sites like Full Fact or Snopes - this rose from 10% to 17%.

Slightly more people also asked the person who shared it whether it was accurate (6% to 9%) and blocked it or reported it to a social media platform (7% to 10%).

Last month one-third of respondents had concerns about the amount of false or misleading information they might be getting about the coronavirus while 57% were worried about the amount of misinformation others may be getting.

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