Half of UK adults exposed to false claims about coronavirus

09 April 2020

Almost half of UK online adults came across false or misleading information about the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the last week, Ofcom research has found.

We are conducting weekly research to help understand how people are receiving and acting on information during the pandemic.

Our results from the first week of the lockdown show that the most common piece of false information around coronavirus is the claim that drinking more water can flush out the infection. This was seen by 35% of online adults. Claims that the coronavirus can be treated  by gargling with saltwater, or avoiding cold food and drink were seen by nearly a quarter (24%) of online adults.

Among those who have seen falsehoods about the virus, two thirds say they see misinformation it every day. Our research also shows that:

  • Most people (55%) are ignoring false claims about coronavirus.
  • Many people (40%) are finding it hard to know what is true or false about the virus.
  • Younger people are following official advice less closely.

Some common false claims about the coroanvirus include 'Drinking more water can flush out the infection' (seen by 35% of adults online) and 'It can be treated by avoiding cold food and drink' (seen by 24% of adults online).

Getting news about the pandemic

People are most likely to turn to the BBC’s TV, radio and online services for the latest news on the pandemic (82%), followed by other broadcasters (56%); official sources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), NHS and the Government (52%); social media (49%); newspapers (43%); and family and friends (42%). Only 15% used closed messaging groups to get information, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

People are relying heavily on broadcast television to keep up to date on the coronavirus. Average daily news viewing across all channels was up by 92% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. The Prime Minister’s Statement, aired on 23 March, is the most-watched programme of 2020 so far with an average of 28 million viewers.

BBC services are generally the most used sources of news and information about the coronavirus.

Trusted sources

Public officials are the most trusted sources of news about coronavirus. Of those that use them, at least nine in 10 people trust information provided by the NHS (95%), the WHO (94%), their local health services (91%) official scientists (90%), and the Government (89%).

Traditional broadcasters are also highly trusted: 83% of people trust coverage on BBC TV and Channel 4, followed by ITV (82%) and Sky (75%). Social media and closed messaging groups were the least trusted sources of news about the pandemic (21% and 26% respectively).

Cutting through the Covid-19 confusion

Access to accurate, trustworthy and credible sources of news and information has never been more important. So, with the support of our Making Sense of Media Panel and Network, Ofcom has collected a set of resources to provide people with useful tools to navigate news and information about Covid-19.

We have also included a section for families, to help parents support their children’s critical understanding during this time.

People are turning to public authorities and traditional broadcasters for trusted information about Covid-19, and the vast majority say they’re closely following official advice.

With so much false information circulating online, it’s never been more important that people can cut through the confusion and find accurate, trustworthy and credible sources of news and advice.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director for Strategy and Research