One of the more worrisome findings in the Pew report is how susceptible social-media users are to false claims, including titillating conspiracy theories shared with online friends and followers. Unfortunately, this misinformation can have deadly consequences for people who mistakenly believe falsehoods about the coronavirus pandemic.
Companies such as Facebook and Twitter have taken steps to curb misinformation by either removing or labeling it. But Pew's study suggests that social-media users are still seeing a lot of wacky falsehoods.
For example, 20% of people who most rely on social media for news had heard a lot about the claim that vitamin C prevents COVID-19 -- the highest percentage among any media channel. Only 8% of print news consumers had seen that erroneous information about the respiratory illness.
Some 17% of social-media news consumers had heard frequent claims of a connection between the coronavirus and 5G, the high-speed mobile networks that cellular companies are installing nationwide. Only 8% of print news readers had heard that claim.
Another popular conspiracy theory is the origination of the coronavirus, with various claims that it's a gene-edited creation from a Chinese bio-weapons lab. Thirty-six percent of social-media news consumers heard the coronavirus was developed in a lab, either intentionally or accidentally, compared with 21% of print news readers.
The most reliable information indicates the coronavirus originated naturally, and the way it jumped from animals to humans is still being investigated.
Pew also found that social-media users tend to be younger than print readers, and are generally less knowledgeable about current events. Unfortunately, these are the same audiences that many advertisers seek with their spending on social media.