Almost half of U.K. online adults came across false or misleading information about coronavirus (COVID-19) in the last week, British communications regulator Ofcom has found.
Ofcom is conducting weekly research to help understand how people are receiving and acting on information during the current pandemic.
The first results from week one of the ‘lockdown’ show that the most common piece of false information around coronavirus is the claim that drinking more water can flush out the infection (seen by 35% of online adults). That is followed by claims that it can be alleviated by gargling with saltwater, or avoiding cold food and drink – both pieces of misinformation seen by nearly a quarter (24%) of online adults.
Among people who have been exposed to falsehoods about the virus, two thirds (66%) are seeing it every day. Ofcom’s research also shows that:
- Most people (55%) are ignoring false claims about coronavirus. Fifteen per cent are using fact-checking tips from the media, such as the BBC’s website, while a similar proportion (13%) are double-checking with friends and family. One in 14 people are forwarding on false or misleading information about the virus.
- Many people (40%) are finding it hard to know what is true or false about the virus. This rises to more than half (52%) of 18-24 year-olds.
- Younger people are following official advice less closely. Virtually all people who took part in the survey said they are closely following the official advice to practice social distancing (98%); only go outside for essential reasons (97%); and wash their hands regularly (96%). However, only 65% of people said they were following handwashing advice very closely, and this falls to 43% among 18-24s.
Almost all online adults (99%) are getting news and information about coronavirus at least once a day, while one in four (24%) are doing so 20 or more times each day. But conversely, more than one in five (22%) said they are trying to avoid news about the pandemic.
People are most likely to turn to the BBC’s TV, radio and online services for the latest news on the pandemic (82%), followed by other broadcasters (56%); official sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), NHS and the Government (52%); social media (49%); newspapers (43%); and family and friends (42%). Only 15% used closed messaging groups to get information, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
People are relying heavily on broadcast television to keep up-to-date with news about coronavirus. Average daily news viewing across all channels was up by 92% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Both BBC News and Sky News have also seen their viewing more than double year-on-year. The Prime Minister’s Statement, which aired on 23 March, is the most-watched television program of 2020 so far; an average of 28 million viewers tuned in across the six channels it was shown on.
Ofcom found that public officials are the most trusted sources of news about coronavirus. Of those that use them, at least nine in 10 people trust information provided by the NHS (95%), the WHO (94%), their local health services (91%) official scientists (90%), and the U.K. government (89%).
Traditional broadcasters are also highly trusted: 83% of people trust coverage on BBC TV and Channel 4, followed by ITV (82%) and Sky (75%). Social media and closed messaging groups were the least trusted sources of news about the pandemic (21% and 26% respectively).
Ofcom has collected a set of resources to provide people with useful tools to navigate news and information about Covid-19. Many of these focus on debunking common misconceptions or harmful claims about the coronavirus. But there are also useful tips on how to seek out reliable content; how to tell fact from fiction; and how to find out who is behind particular claims.