Just the facts: Survey finds fake news about COVID-19 remains a concern

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than two of every three people in North Carolina responding to a survey say they are still worried about misinformation on the coronavirus pandemic.

PR Pioneer surveyed 2,400 adults across the country to gauge what states’ residents have the highest levels of concern about fake news and the impact it is having on society’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The survey found 69 percent of the respondents from the state indicated a general worry about misinformation. South Carolina had the highest percentage of people concerned, at 81 percent, while Utah was the lowest at 32 percent.

To combat that wave of misinformation, CBS 17 News spent months earlier this year debunking virus-related myths, many of which circulated online via social media.

The survey also found that 45 percent of those who responded say they have the most trust in news found online, while another 41 percent say they trust television news.

Helen Lee Boygues, an expert on identifying misinformation on social media, founded the Reboot Foundation, a nonpartisan group that focuses on critical thinking skills. 

Her group conducted a separate study of its own during the spring, and it reached a similar conclusion — fake news is way too widespread on social media. 

More than 55 percent of the 1,000 people participating in her study claimed to be “very informed” or “extremely informed” about the coronavirus — but it turned out that roughly one third of the total was at least partly misinformed.

“There’s general misinformation and behavior linked to social media and the trends that you see, by the nature of the fact that people gather their information on social media,” Bouygues told CBS 17 News.

Among people who use social media hourly or more, she said she found a 14 percent increase in “people buying more into myths” than those who use those media less frequently.

Her study found the most popular misinformation tended to focus on the idea that COVID-19 might become less potent during the summer and the “range of remedies,” she said.

She also found older people generally are more likely to retweet misinformation than younger people.

“But with the coronavirus, it has less of an impact,” she said. “The real issue is what sources people are reading and how much social media people are exposed to. You see the categorization of people believing in myths more around that category.”

The PR Pioneer survey also found that 44 percent of people across the nation who responded indicated they have been confused by official advice since the start of the pandemic. The first several months of the crisis were marked by mixed messages from health officials and federal and state leaders about, among other topics, the efficacy of mask usage.

Additionally, 39 percent of respondents said they don’t think the health risks of COVID-19 — which has killed nearly 800,000 across the globe and nearly 180,000 in the U.S. — are as serious as portrayed in the media.

And 37 percent of those who responded said they are experiencing news fatigue related to COVID-19.

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