Americans who get their COVID-19 news and information solely from Facebook have much lower vaccination rates than the general population.
That's the takeaway from a new survey of nearly 20,700 people across the United States. The researchers asked them in June which of six sources they use for COVID-19 news and info. The six included: Facebook, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Biden administration and Newsmax.
Facebook emerged as a major information source, comparable with CNN or Fox News.
"Our findings do not necessarily mean that social media use causes misperceptions or vaccine skepticism," said study co-author Katherine Ognyanova, assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "But it does tell us there is a large group of vaccine skeptics who disproportionately rely on Facebook for health information."
Of the 31% who said they use Facebook, about half said it was their sole source of pandemic information.
Of those who rely on Facebook for news about the coronavirus, 61% said they were vaccinated, compared to 71% of respondents who said they didn't use Facebook. Meanwhile, 68% of the eligible U.S. population has had at least one COVID-19 shot (49.6% are fully vaccinated).
Only respondents who got COVID-19 information from the conservative Newsmax website had higher vaccine resistance and lower vaccination rates than Facebook users.
People who got pandemic information exclusively on Facebook were also more likely (22%) to believe at least one false claim about COVID-19, compared with 21% of those who relied on Newsmax or Fox News, and 7% of those who looked at multiple sources of information, the findings showed.
In all, 37% of respondents who said they got their pandemic information exclusively through Facebook in the 24 hours before the survey reported trusting the media "some" or "a lot" compared to 47% for everyone else.
Those who rely exclusively on Facebook may be people who simply don't trust the media or political institutions to tell them the truth, Ognyanova said.
"But it's possible their attitudes are exacerbated by the content they encounter on online platforms," she added in a news release.
The study was produced by the COVID States Project, a coalition of researchers from four universities: Rutgers-New Brunswick, Northeastern, Harvard and Northwestern.
The findings were recently published on the preprint server OSFPreprints and have not been peer-reviewed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 facts and myths.
SOURCE: Rutgers University-New Brunswick, news release, July 29, 2021