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Consumption of conservative media led to low concern about coronavirus in US: Research

ANI | Updated: Jun 26, 2020 12:00 IST

Washington [US], June 26 (ANI): As coronavirus infection continue to surge in the United States, researchers believe that the consumption of far-right media and social media content was strongly associated with low concern about the virus at the onset of the pandemic.
According to the Washington Post, three studies have focused on conservative media's role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. "Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others."
"We are receiving an incredible number of studies and solid data showing that consuming far-right media and social media content was strongly associated with low concern about the virus at the onset of the pandemic," said Irene Pasquetto, chief editor of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, which published one of the studies.
According to a peer-reviewed study by Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, people who relied on conservative sources such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for coronavirus update were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or unfounded rumours, such as the belief that taking vitamin C could prevent infection, that the Chinese government had created the virus.
The study was conducted in April through a nationally representative phone survey with 1,008 respondents.
The authors pointed out several examples of misinformation circulating in conservative media. For example, on March 6, Fox medical contributor Marc Siegel stated on Hannity's popular evening program that "the virus should be compared to the flu. Because at worst, at worst, the worst-case scenario it could be the flu."
A working paper posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May examined whether these incorrect beliefs affected real-world behaviour.
According to the Washington Post, the authors used anonymous location data from millions of cellphones to explore how the popularity of Fox News in a given Zip code related to social distancing practices there.
By March 15, they found, a 10 per cent increase in Fox News viewership within a Zipcode reduced its residents' propensity to stay home, in compliance with public health guidelines, by about 1.3 percentage points.
The effect that we measure could be driven by the long-term message of Fox News, which is that the mainstream media often report 'fake news' and have a political agenda," Andrey Simonov, the study's lead author. "This could result in lowering trust in institutions and experts, including health experts in the case of the pandemic."
Another recent working paper, by economists at the University of Chicago and other institutions, similarly finds that Fox News viewers are less likely to comply with public health guidelines than consumers of other media.
The study focused particularly on the differences in how Fox's Tucker Carlson and Hannity discussed the pandemic during its early days.
"Carlson warned viewers that the coronavirus might pose a serious threat from early February," the researchers wrote, "while Hannity first ignored the topic on his show and then dismissed the risks associated with the virus, claiming that it was less concerning than the common flu and insisting that Democrats were using it as a political weapon to undermine the president." (ANI)