Half of UK Adults Exposed to #COVID19 Fake News

Half of UK adults have been exposed to online misinformation about COVID-19, making access to credible news sources increasingly important, according to regulator Ofcom.

Ofcom is surveying 2000 adults each week to better understand how online users are receiving information during the current pandemic.

Its first report, covering the first week the country was on lockdown following government orders, revealed that 46% of respondents had come across false or misleading information online, rising to 58% among 18-24-year-olds.

Worryingly, 40% said they are finding it difficult to know what’s true or false online, rising again in younger people to 52%.

Younger respondents are also said to be less likely to follow official advice: while 65% of people said they were following advice on handwashing very closely, this fell to 43% for 18-24-year-olds.

Among the most common misinformation circulating online is that drinking more water can flush out the virus, and that it can be relieved by gargling with salt water or avoiding cold food and drink, seen by 35% and 24% of adults, respectively.

Despite the fake news circulating online, however, most Brits (55%) are ignoring false claims and turning to official media sources to get their news. The BBC is most popular, with 82% of respondents claiming they check it, followed by other broadcasters (56%), and official authorities like the WHO, government and NHS (52%).

However, 49% are getting information via social media, where fake news flourishes. A further 43% find COVID-19 info via newspapers and 42% from friends and family, who could simply be repeating misinformation.

“People are turning to public authorities and traditional broadcasters for trusted information about COVID-19, and the vast majority say they’re closely following official advice,” said Ofcom group director for strategy and research, Yih-Choung Teh.

“With so much false information circulating online, it’s never been more important that people can cut through the confusion and find accurate, trustworthy and credible sources of news and advice.”

The government was recently forced to launch a rapid response unit to combat online misinformation about the virus, while in China, government officials have actively been promoting conspiracy theories about the pandemic’s origins as a US military plot.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?