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Social media trusted least during extreme weather situations, new UF study reveals

by | Aug 10, 2020

Despite the emergence of ubiquitous mobile devices and social media, television continues to be the most widely used and trusted platform for information and breaking news on extreme weather, according to recent research from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC).

The findings are a result of a study, led by Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, Telecommunication professor and Director of Media Consumer Research at UFCJC, on trust in media and technology and the efficacy of communication through media platforms during extreme weather events. Chan-Olmsted also conducts research for the University of Florida’s Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology.

According to the research, television and social media were the most frequently used media for general information, not including extreme weather events. During extreme weather situations, television continued to be the most popular and trusted platform, with radio edging out social media in usage and trust.

For those who said social media was their primary breaking news source, Facebook was by far the most popular platform, leading Twitter by about 3 to 1. After Twitter, YouTube and Instagram were the next most popular social media platforms for breaking weather news.

Television and mobile apps were the most used media sources for radar maps and extreme weather content, followed by online sites. More than 55 percent of participants relied on television, 20 percent on weather apps, and only 4 percent on social media.

Television also was found to be the most heavily used media before, during and after an extreme weather event. During an extreme event, mobile media, such as radio and weather apps, were used significantly more than before or after. Websites were found to be used more prior to the event happening. Social media platforms were favored more after the extreme weather, compared to before and during the event.

The study also found that weather-related content from local media sources was favored over content from national sources. Local media was perceived to have the most credible, trustworthy, accurate, and high-quality content. Television meteorologists were also perceived to be the most trustworthy, although most participants also thought meteorologists sometimes exaggerated the conditions.

Despite television’s dominance in extreme weather information, younger respondents, in particular, are beginning to lean more on alternative types of platforms, such as social media and weather apps. While social media currently is trusted least during an event, it may gain popularity over the next decade as populations continue to become more mobile and reliant on portable devices.

Read the full report here.

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