In The Causes and Consequences of COVID-19 Misperceptions: Understanding the Role of News and Social Media, Bridgman argues that social media influences misconceptions about the COVID-19 pandemic while the traditional news does not, and the misperceptions about the pandemic can lead people to be less compliant with hygiene and social distancing practices. Bridgman argues that ultimately, misinformation about the pandemic is causing some people to behave in ways that is increasing the severity of the pandemic.
In Bridgman’s study, experimenters collected information from tweets and news media and searched for terms related to the misinformation spread at the beginning of the pandemic (COVID was no more serious than the flu, vitamin C would prevent contraction of the virus, the initial transfer of the virus was related to eating bats, of that COVID was a hoax), and the tweets were then coded into categories of misinformation. The experimenters then convicted a survey about risk perceptions and misconceptions, as well as asked respondents about their news and social media consumption habits. The results of the study showed that misinformation is spread more through social media, and combatting misinformation was more common on traditional news media. Additionally, the study showed that there is a strong associations between being misinformed and being an active social media user, and the opposite is true for people who use the traditional news as an info source. Finally, the study showed that higher levels of misperception is correlated with lower compliance to social distancing, and this can be partially attributed to increased social media exposure. Bridgman argues that even in a culture where partisan views are less prevalent, social media can facilitate the spread of misinformation and lead to misperceptions about what people should be doing in regard to hygiene and social distancing, and calls for social media companies to try and limit the spread of misinformation.
I find Bridgman’s argument valid, and have seen the patterns that he mentions play out through the course of the pandemic. His argument should be taken seriously because from the results of his study, we can see what misinformation can do in a place with a healthy media system such as the one in Canada, and these results can be even more extreme in places with more polarized media and news climates (like what we saw play out in the USA).
A potential limitation of the study is for a participant to be included, they must follow many Canadian political accounts or use frequently used Canadian hashtags in order to prove they are Canadian. However, this may have dwindled the sample to Canadians who are active on social media, and could have overlooked the social media and news activity of an average Canadian.