USF study shows the role of misinformation, politicization in pandemic recovery

A new survey from the University of South Florida released Monday shows how misinformation about the pandemic politicized a non-partisan issue.

Researchers found the majority of people surveyed agree the politicization of the pandemic has made it difficult to learn the truth about COVID-19.

We're now just days into a new administration and still in the midst of pandemic. Americans, in large part, are learning about it all through social media whether the information may be truthful or not. It's why researchers at USF wanted to learn more about people's opinions, but more importantly how exactly they're forming them.

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"We want to better understand how people behave online. What risks that poses. How they manage the flow of information," USF Associate Professor Stephen Neely said.

To do so, Neely with the School of Public Affairs surveyed more than 1,000 voting-age Americans about social media, misinformation and the politicization of the pandemic.

"The real challenge right now for particularly for the Biden administration, but really for the public health professionals around the country and around the world. The biggest challenge is how do we de-politicize this conversation," Neely said.

Among the key findings, two-thirds of people surveyed agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has been too politicized on social media with 30% of people saying the pandemic has caused tension in their family.

When it comes to information gathering, more than three-fourths of people rely on social media to stay informed about the pandemic even though only 30% of people agree the information is truthful.

"That's a real problem. When the politicization and those echo chambers become front and center. People have a hard time discerning and finding the information that is actually accurate that will help them make better decisions for themselves. That's a big takeaway," Neely said.

Going forward, Neely encourages more people to fact check with only 36% saying they've talked to their doctor about the accuracy of information on social media.

"That's the environment that we see with this data right now and that's the environment we want to move away from. We want to make this back toward a public health conversation," Neely said.