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Politics, social media cloud coronavirus information, USF survey finds

Many respondents also said the pandemic has caused tension with family and friends.
Residents listen as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at a Publix Super Market in Ponte Vedra Beach earlier this month. DeSantis announced that the number of Publix pharmacies distributing COVID-19 vaccines had increased to more stores.
Residents listen as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at a Publix Super Market in Ponte Vedra Beach earlier this month. DeSantis announced that the number of Publix pharmacies distributing COVID-19 vaccines had increased to more stores. [ BOB SELF | AP ]
Published Jan. 25

Politics and social media have played big roles in what people understand and believe about the coronavirus pandemic, a national survey by the University of South Florida has found.

Of the 1,000 or so respondents, 76 percent agreed that “politics has made it harder to learn the truth about COVID-19,” according to the survey, which focused on social media, misinformation and the politicization of information during the pandemic.

Though 67 percent of respondents agreed the pandemic has been too politicized on social media, many reported using sites like Facebook and Twitter to find information about COVID-19.

Just over three-quarters said they have relied on social media at least “a little” to stay informed about the coronavirus, while 46 percent said they have relied on it “a lot.” Seventy percent said they read information about COVID-19 on social media at least once a week, while 32 percent said they do so every day.

Nearly a third of those surveyed agreed that COVID-19 has caused tension with family and friends, with one in five Facebook users reporting that they’ve unfriended someone because of something they posted about the virus.

The survey also found that few respondents trust the information they get on social media. A third said they are confident in the accuracy of COVID-19 information on social media, and one-quarter said they trust social media for general news and information.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents agreed that “there is a lot of false information about COVID-19 on social media.” More than half said they have personally encountered misinformation about the pandemic online, but only 36 percent said they have talked to a doctor or health care professional to check the accuracy of what they’re seeing.

The survey, part two of a three-part series, was conducted Jan. 9-12 in partnership with Cyber Florida at USF. Results are reported with a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, the university said.

A third round of results focused on changes in personal and professional online behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic will be released this week.

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