While a variety of surveys and tracking studies have shown that the kind of people prone to watch Fox News Channel’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic believe the mainstream media have exaggerated its risks and that local governments’ restrictions are a hoax and violation of their rights, new academic research suggests it also is affecting their behavior in an unhealthy way.
The research, authored by Columbia University and University of Chicago professors and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found a significant correlation between Fox News viewing and “non-compliance with social distancing orders.”
Specifically, it shows that each 1% increase in Fox News’ is viewing in a given ZIP code “reduces the propensity to state at home by 8.9%.”
“We show that exposure to Fox News has led to substantially lower compliance with social distancing regulations,” says Andrey Simonov, an assistant professor at the Columbia Business School, noting: "Our team was interested in examining the broader consequences of cable viewership and the role that media outlets like Fox play in the enforcement of public health recommendations. SafeGraph’s COVID-19 Consortium data allowed us to answer this question by providing a daily panel of census-block-level aggregate movements data, enabling our team to measure stay-at-home rates across the country.”
Fox News Channel continues to dominate cable news ratings, and the entire sector has been benefitting from a surge in viewing from Americans glued for news about the pandemic.
It has also been the subject of a suit by a public interest group claiming it has been perpetuating disinformation and “fake news” about the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it’s unlikely that suit will go to court, the new research demonstrates an explicit cause and effect between Fox News’ coverage and potentially reckless behavior.