University of South Florida


University of South Florida researchers release findings from new national COVID-19 opinion survey

A graphic illustration of the COVID-19 virus

Researchers with the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs, in partnership with Cyber Florida at the University of South Florida, have released the second set of results from a nationwide opinion survey regarding COVID-19.

This particular portion of the survey measures Americans’ use of social media to engage with pandemic information, as well as their attitudes regarding the accuracy of the material they encounter online and politicization of the pandemic.

Among the key findings:

Politics has affected many people’s ability to learn about COVID-19. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has been too politicized on social media. Three-quarters of Americans (76%) say that “politics has made it harder to learn the truth about COVID-19”.

COVID-19 has been a source of personal tension for many Americans. Nearly a third of respondents (30%) agreed that COVID-19 has caused tension in their family and/or friendships. More than one in five Facebook users (22%) report having “unfriended” or “unfollowed” someone because of something they posted about COVID-19.

Americans have relied heavily on social media to stay informed about COVID-19. Three quarters of Americans (76%) say that they have relied on social media at least a “A Little” to stay informed about COVID-19, while just under half (46%) say they have relied on it “A Lot”. A significant majority (70%) report that they read information about COVID-19 on social media at least “Once a Week”, while 32% say that they do so “Every Day”.

Despite their reliance on social media, many don’t trust the information they encounter there. While social media has been heavily relied on during the pandemic, only a third of Americans (32%) say that they are confident in the accuracy of the information that they see about COVID-19 on social media. Only a quarter (26%) trust social media in general as a source of news and information.

Social media users are wary of misinformation about COVID-19, but most have not relied on medical experts to “fact-check” information. Nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) agree that “there is a lot of false information about COVID-19 on social media”, and more than half (56%) say that they have personally encountered misinformation about the pandemic online. However, only 36% report talking to a doctor or health care professional about the accuracy of something they saw on social media about COVID-19.

Some partisan differences. Republicans were slightly more likely to see the COVID-19 pandemic as “politicized”, with 78% either “somewhat” or “strongly” agreeing that the pandemic “has been too politicized on social media”, compared with 60% of Democrats, and 73% of Independents. Republicans were also slightly more likely to believe that politics has made it harder to learn the truth about COVID-19 (86% vs. 71% of Democrats and 77% of Independents). However, majorities in both parties agreed with each of these sentiments.

The survey included a representative sample of 1,003 voting-age Americans, fielded Jan. 9-12, 2021. Results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/- 3%.

A third round of results, examining changes in personal and professional online behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, are set to be released within the next few days.

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