Understanding how news works can short-circuit the link between social media use and vaccine hesitancy

(The Conversation is an independent and not-for-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

Muhammad E. Rasul, University of California, Davis; Jaeho Cho, University of California, Davis, and Saifuddin Ahmed, Nanyang Technological University

(THE TALK) The Research Brief is a brief overview of interesting academic work.

The big idea

People who consume a lot of news on social media are more likely to be skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines and also more reluctant to get vaccinated, according to our newly published study. However, we found that social media users with higher news literacy levels have more confidence in COVID-19 footage.

Other research has found that heavy reliance on social media exposes individuals to misinformation related to COVID-19, particularly about the effectiveness of vaccines.

In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, we measured how skeptical social media users were about the development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and how likely they would be to get the vaccine if it were available.

We also assessed participants’ news literacy by asking nine questions that tested how much they knew about how journalism works — for example, to identify which media outlets did their own reporting versus news summaries and which publications were for-profit were. You can take the quiz.

In our study, participants with low communication skills, meaning they answered only three of the nine questions correctly on average, were more likely to be vaccine hesitant than participants with moderate (four to six correct answers) or high (seven or more correct answers). answers) level of message literacy.

We conclude that misinformation and disinformation about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, spreading through social media, is leading to vaccine hesitation, particularly among people who are less good at distinguishing real from fake news. Our conclusion fits with the finding of other researchers that improving media literacy is an effective intervention against misinformation.

Why it matters

During the pandemic, people relied heavily on social media to recover, relieve stress and receive coronavirus-related news.

For example, a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center found that about half of Americans rely on social media for news about COVID-19. As a result, social media users have been exposed to misinformation about the coronavirus, while at the same time skepticism about COVID-19 from scientists and public health organizations has increased. Health misinformation on social media can also lead people to form false beliefs about public health interventions like vaccines.

Despite the mass availability of vaccines in the United States, as of October 19, 2022, only 49% of the population had completed the primary COVID-19 series and received a booster shot. A March 2022 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unvaccinated people were 12 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.

Vaccination helps mitigate the harmful effects of COVID-19. Anything that undermines confidence in the syringe is of public health concern.

What other research is being done

A key area of ​​work is examining who is likely to be vulnerable to COVID-19 misinformation. For example, a 2020 study found that heavy social media users who are also politically conservative are more vulnerable to COVID-19-related misinformation than those who are not conservative.

Researchers have also tested ways to reduce misconceptions about COVID-19. In one case, the World Health Organization designed and published shareable infographics debunking various coronavirus myths. One study showed that exposure to infographics decreased belief in the particular COVID-19 myth being targeted. The effect was the same whether the graphic was shared by the World Health Organization or by an anonymous Facebook user.

How we do our job

Our study relied on online polling data collected at two different times in the United States—once in late September 2020 and then four weeks later, just before the US presidential election. Our initial sample of 2,000 participants was selected to be very similar to the entire US population in terms of age, gender distribution, and political affiliation. Participants were ranked as high, moderate, or low for both COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and media literacy based on our questionnaire.

The follow-up interviewed 673 participants. When we reviewed our participants a month later, we were able to confirm that their beliefs were consistent on more than one occasion.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/understanding-how-news-works-can-short-circuit-the-connection-between-social-media-use-and-vaccine-hesitancy-188784.

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