With the Delta spike, COVID-19 continues to rage across the globe. So too does a firestorm of news about everything from case numbers to vaccines to masking. CivicScience dove into the fray to uncover latest insights related to how people are consuming COVID-19 news and information.

Misinformation Concerns

Checking in on the public temperature finds that concerns over misinformation are running high. How high, exactly? In a survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults, an overwhelming majority of respondents (70%) express concern about receiving inaccurate news and information right now, while close to 40% are very concerned.

Who is more likely to be doing the worrying? Vaccines have been the main topic making headlines about COVID-19 misinformation. The survey findings suggest that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike share concerns over receiving misinformation, although vaccinated people are more likely to be concerned overall.

Trusted News Sources

When it comes to trusted news sources for COVID-19 news and information, the verdict is out. Respondents are slightly more inclined to trust news media over government websites or research journals (and much more than social media).

However, close to one-quarter of respondents say they don’t trust any sources for accurate news and information. In fact, more people don’t trust any source than trust any single source.

How People Get COVID-19 News

Breaking things down further, the study looked specifically at which types of media Americans were turning to for COVID-19 news.

TV and the Web. As expected, the web is a major source – close to 30% say it’s their primary source. However, television is still a force to be reckoned with, edging out the web and any other medium as a primary COVID-19 news source. It’s worth mentioning that what constitutes “TV” is pretty vast these days, thanks to a wide variety of apps and streaming services.

Social Media. It’s highly likely that many more Americans are receiving pandemic-related news via social media (suggested by a recent Pew Research report), but just 10% report scrolling Facebook, Twitter, and the like as their primary COVID-19 news source. 

Non-participants. In our information-saturated culture, it may seem nearly impossible to avoid COVID-19 news. Yet, a considerable number of Americans are managing to do so successfully; 17% say they don’t keep up with COVID-19 news at all. 

‘News’ Habits Die Hard

Interestingly, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed the ways in which people receive news. When crossing data on where people go for breaking news (not specific to COVID-19) with where they go for COVID-19 news, the survey reveals that most tend to stick with what they know and like. 

To note, those who say that breaking news is not important are similarly unlikely to keep up with COVID-19 news.

Social Media Is Key for Gen Z 

If any chart distinctly shows the differences in how age groups are receiving COVID-19 news, it’s the one below. Perhaps the most significant takeaway here is that social media ranks as the single most popular news source for almost one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds, beating out TV by a landslide. Compare that to adults age 55 and up, where TV takes first place. When it comes to getting coronavirus-related news, the media habits between these age groups couldn’t be more disparate.

Surfing the web is the most popular way for Millennials and Gen X to get COVID-19 news, but they are also the most likely to not keep up with news at all. 

Hunting for COVID-19 News & Info

Despite the Delta surge, have vaccinations cooled the need to track down the latest COVID-19 news or info? The survey probed how frequently people actively sought out COVID-19 news during the past month, as opposed to receiving it with the nightly news, for example. 

Findings show there isn’t an average or typical behavior. Well over 40% of respondents regularly searched for COVID-19 news and info, but that was evenly divided between daily and weekly activity. Close to 30% looked up info a few times in the month, while close to 30% didn’t search for COVID-19 news or info at all in September. 

Further analysis proved that search activity correlates to Delta concerns. Those who are very concerned about the Delta variant have a heightened need to search for COVID-19 news on a daily basis. In fact, more than two-thirds of people in this group searched for news and info either daily or weekly. 

In contrast, among respondents who are not at all concerned about Delta, more than 80% never searched for news, or did so once or twice.

News Consumption and Comfort Levels

Finally, the study analyzed how different types of media impact consumer behaviors, such as comfort dining in restaurants or attending public events.

Crossing the primary way people are receiving COVID-19 news with comfort in going to a major public event, such as a sporting event, shows some variation among media types. You’re more likely to see younger social media users at large public events, compared to older TV-watchers, who feel far less comfortable. 

However, the true outliers are those who don’t keep up with COVID-19 news at all. A strong majority of this subgroup would feel comfortable going to a major public event this month. The data show this behavior repeated when looking at other activities, such as dining out and going back to work at an office. That prompts the question, what does it mean to turn on, tune in, or even ‘drop out’ from the news cycle today? 

Stay tuned for more media insights and how news habits translate to other types of consumer behaviors.