COVID misinformation is part of a larger trend across all content areas and it is a major concern for many
Almost half (49.7%) of Americans felt their decisions about COVID-19 were affected by misinformation, while 43.7% believed the pandemic was intentionally created and released for political reasons, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of The School of Thought International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to critical thinking, sheds light on the paradoxical relationship Americans have with misinformation. The study, encompassing responses from over 1,000 U.S. adults, examined the beliefs surrounding artificial intelligence, conspiracy theories, and concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections.
Despite a strong majority (67.9%) supporting the development of media literacy and critical thinking skills, approximately half of respondents (49.8%) endorsed debunked conspiracy theories, such as the belief that the 2020 U.S. federal election was stolen due to widespread fraud.
The newly launched Critical Thinking Alliance, an evidence-based initiative to counteract misinformation, aims to address these concerns. Backed by leading academics and organizations, including Snopes.com and Cambridge University Professor Sander van der Linden, the alliance invites collaboration from other organizations and the general public to combat misinformation through evidence-based approaches at criticalthinkingalliance.org.
The survey underscores the pervasive fear of misinformation, with an overwhelming majority (84%) expressing concerns about its impact, and 78% deeming it an existential threat to society. Approximately 90% of respondents reported encountering information in the media or online that they suspected may be false or misleading.
While 73% expressed confidence in their own ability to spot misinformation, only 38% shared the same confidence in others. The study also revealed that nearly 50% of Americans believe in conspiracy theories, such as the idea that aliens have visited Earth and governments are covering it up. However, 78% agreed that conspiracy theories have a detrimental effect on society.
Concerns about the spread of misinformation in U.S. elections were prevalent, with 77.3% citing this as a worry. Nearly half (49.8%) believed significant fraud occurred in the 2020 U.S. federal election, leading to a change in the outcome. Despite this polarization, 81.9% expressed a desire to proactively work to mitigate the effects of misinformation on the 2024 election.
Trust in traditional media sources appeared low, with only one-third (35%) reporting trust. Family (57.9%) and friends (46%) topped the list of trusted sources, followed by academic experts (38%), CNN (33.4%), Fox News (32%), and The New York Times (32%). However, a majority still turned to traditional news media for information on significant trending issues.
The study revealed skepticism regarding tech and social media giants as news sources, with 66.4% of consumers believing there should be less reliance on these platforms.
Concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) were evident, with 61% fearing that AI would increase both the quality and quantity of disinformation. A majority (51%) expressed worry about the combination of social media and AI amplifying disinformation, potentially going against humanity's interests. More Americans (53%) believed that the information landscape had been contaminated in 2023 by AI-generated disinformation and misinformation compared to the previous five years.
The study suggests that while concerns about misinformation are widespread, evidence-based approaches and a collective effort are crucial to address this issue and mitigate its effects on society.