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Classroom connection: ‘Overwhelmed’ by information and misinformation

NLP Updates


While 58% of Americans report being “well-informed” about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, more than a third (36%) say they feel “overwhelmed” by the information (and misinformation) circulating about the pandemic: That’s a key finding from a new survey conducted by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the Gallup/Knight Foundation Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.

The survey was conducted online between April 14 and April 20 with a random sample of 1,693 members of the Gallup Panel (a research panel designed to be representative of the U.S. adult population); the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Results were published on May 11.

Other findings

  • Almost 80% of respondents said that “false or inaccurate information about the coronavirus has been a major problem.”
  • Almost half (47%) named “the Trump administration” as the primary source of misinformation about the pandemic; a third (33%) named “the mainstream national news.” But when respondents’ second choices were added in, “social media websites and apps” was the combined “winner” (the first choice of 15% and the second choice of 53%, for an overall total of 68%), followed by the Trump administration (the second choice of 7%, for an overall total of 54%).
  • Respondents were evenly divided (42% for both) over whether social media platforms should immediately remove posts that are suspected of containing coronavirus misinformation or whether they should leave the posts up until the information in them is either confirmed or debunked.

In addition, younger adults (18-34) were more likely than older adults (55+) to say they are overwhelmed, though the reasoning for this was unclear.

Trust in news organizations played a part in responses, the survey found: Those with a favorable opinion of the media were “nearly twice as likely as those who view it negatively to say they are well-informed, 79% to 41%.

Classroom discussion

The World Health Organization describes the overwhelming spread of information — and misinformation — about COVID-19 as an “infodemic.” How would you describe your experience with this “infodemic”? How difficult is it to find credible information about COVID-19? How often do you encounter information that you’re not sure about? Where do you encounter questionable information? Have mainstream news outlets gotten anything wrong about the pandemic? If so, what was it?

Another idea

Have students review the Gallup report and replicate it by asking people 18 and older in their households the questions featured in the report. How do students’ results compare with the survey findings?

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NLP Updates