Study suggests people who believe COVID-19 conspiracy theories get the misinformation from social media

A survey conducted by King’s College London in collaboration with Ipsos MORI looked at the correlation between compliance with COVID-19 regulations and where people got most of their news regarding the pandemic.

The study also examined how many of those surveyed believed in COVID-19 conspiracy theories circulating on social media.

A total of three studies were conducted, and the results showed that conspiracy theories that encouraged people not to follow health guidelines when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19, such as mask-wearing, are primarily spread through social media, according to the study published in Psychological Medicine.

The study surveyed 2,254 United Kingdom residents between the ages of 16-75 in mid-May.

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People who believe in conspiracy theories about the current pandemic are more likely to have broken lockdown rules, according to the study.

“For example, 38% of those who think there is no hard evidence that Covid-19 really exists have had family/friends visit them at home, compared with 12% of those who think that’s false,” the study stated.

The study also suggested that most people who believe in conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are likely have to gotten that misinformation from social media.

“60% of those who believe the symptoms are linked to 5G radiation say that much of their information on Covid-19 comes from YouTube, compared with 14% of those who think that’s false,” the study said.

One consistent finding across all three studies was that mostly young people believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories and that mostly women were willing to follow lockdown guidelines.

YouTube and Facebook have been identified as major vectors for dissemination of conspiracy beliefs and misinformation, according to the study. Twitter was also mentioned as a problematic outlet when it comes to spreading conspiracy theories, but social media is “both pervasive and popular” and the effects that social media has on the population’s opinions is hard to keep track of, the study suggested.

“It is unclear which groups are most susceptible to its influence,” the study said.

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Here are a few other key highlights of findings from the survey:

  • 3 in 10 think coronavirus was probably created in a lab, up from a quarter at the beginning of April.
  • 3 in 10 think most people in the U.K. have already had coronavirus without realizing it.
  • 3 in 10 believe the COVID-19 death toll is being deliberately reduced or hidden by the authorities.
  • 1 in 7 believe the death toll is being deliberately exaggerated by the authorities.
  • 1 in 8 believe that the current pandemic is part of a global effort to force everyone to be vaccinated.
  • More than 1 in 20 believe that the symptoms that most people blame on Covid-19 appear to be connected to 5G network radiation.
  • More than 1 in 20 believe there is no hard evidence that COVID-19 really exists.

“Social media platforms have long been recognized as major disseminators of health misinformation. Many previous studies have found a negative association between health-protective behaviors and belief in the specific form of misinformation popularly known as ‘conspiracy theory.’ Concerns have arisen regarding the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories on social media,” the study said. “When used as an information source, unregulated social media may present a health risk that is partly but not wholly reducible to their role as disseminators of health-related conspiracy beliefs.”

In the same vein, residents of some countries are seemingly fed up with ongoing lockdown regulations, evinced by a recent uptick in infections in Germany and France.

Germany reported Saturday that the country had almost 1,500 new infections over the past day.

Germany has been praised for the way it has handled the pandemic, and the country's death toll of some 9,300 people is less than one-fourth the amount of people who have died of COVID-19 in Britain. Opinion polls show overwhelming support for the prevention measures imposed by authorities, such as the requirement to wear masks on public transport, in stores and some public buildings such as libraries and schools.

Meanwhile, a few hundred people rallied Saturday in eastern Paris to protest new mask rules and other restrictions prompted by rising virus infections around France. Police watched closely but did not intervene.

The protesters had no central organizer but included people in yellow vests who formerly protested economic injustice, others promoting conspiracy theories and those who call themselves “Anti-Masks.”

France has not seen an anti-mask movement like some other countries. Masks are now required everywhere in public in Paris as authorities warn that infections are growing exponentially just as schools are set to resume classes.

France registered more than 7,000 new virus infections in a single day Friday, up from several hundred a day in May and June, in part thanks to ramped-up testing. It has the third-highest coronavirus death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy, with over 30,600 dead.

In London, hundreds of people crowded into Trafalgar Square for a “Unite for Freedom” protest against government lockdown restrictions and the wearing of face masks. The Metropolitan Police warned demonstrators that anyone attending a gathering of more than 30 people may be at risk of committing a criminal offense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.