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Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

by | Mar 3, 2022 | Public Relations

Disinformation, or deliberately false or misleading information, has been a burgeoning issue since the advent of the social media era, but as we know, the issue has increasingly worsened over the last few years as political divisiveness has become rampant in American society. New research from the Institute for Public Relations now shows that nearly three-quarters of Americans on both sides of the political aisle believe disinformation will prolong the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What surprised us in this year’s survey was the jump in how disinformation is perceived as a major societal issue and the extent to which people believe disinformation affects the election process, mental health, and vaccines,” said Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, in a news release.

Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

The 3rd annual Institute for Public Relations Disinformation in Society Report is based on a survey of 2,200 Americans conducted Nov. 10-14, 2021, by Morning Consult, which explores the prevalence and effects of disinformation, source trustworthiness, and the sources responsible for spreading and combatting disinformation.Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

Some key findings include:

Disinformation will prolong the COVID-19 pandemic

Seventy-two percent of respondents agreed that disinformation will prolong COVID-19, and nearly that same percentage (73 percent) said that much disinformation exists about the COVID-19 vaccination.

Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

Both Republicans and Democrats believe disinformation is a major problem in society

More than two-thirds of Americans on both sides of the political aisle believe disinformation is a major problem in society, a significant jump from 63 percent in 2020 to 69 percent this year. Disinformation was perceived to be a bigger problem than infectious disease outbreaks, terrorism, and climate change.

Disinformation has a negative impact on society and well-being

Seventy-one percent said disinformation increases the polarization of political parties, while 63 percent said it infringes on human rights.  More than half of the respondents (52 percent) said encountering disinformation makes them feel anxious or stressed.

Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

Family and friends were the most trusted sources, while politicians and Facebook were blamed most often for spreading disinformation

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said family (79 percent) and friends (74 percent) were the most trusted sources of information. Politicians (77 percent) and Facebook (72 percent) were most responsible for spreading disinformation.

Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

While Republicans and Democrats differed on their trust in media sources, local news brought them together

Mainstream media outlets saw starkly different perceptions of trustworthiness based on political affiliation by as much as 40 percentage points. The media sources both Republicans and Democrats agree on are local sources, specifically local broadcast news (64 percent) and local newspapers (63 percent).

Significant gaps exist between who should be most responsible for combatting disinformation and their actual performance

Sixty-seven percent said President Biden should be “very responsible” for combatting disinformation, but only 21 percent said he was doing “very well” actually doing so. Similar gaps were found with those entities who scored highest in responsibility for combatting disinformation, including the U.S. government (66 percent vs. 14 percent), Congress (63 percent vs. 9 percent), journalists (58 percent vs. 9 percent, and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (60 percent vs. 12 percent). Fifty-five percent continue to find Former President Donald Trump to be “very responsible” for combatting disinformation, but only 22 percent stated he was doing “very well” in combatting it.

Why disinformation is one of the biggest problems in society—and may prolong the pandemic

Download the full report here.

The survey was sponsored by the Public Affairs Council and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Morning Consult conducted a survey between November 10-14, 2021, among a national sample of 2,200 adults. The interviews were conducted online, and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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