Increasing numbers of people are at risk of being uninformed or misled about Covid-19, a survey examining public attitudes during the pandemic has suggested.
Figures suggest a growing lack of trust in official or traditional sources of information – such as the Government, scientists and the press – coupled with an increase in people avoiding coronavirus-related news altogether.
And there are signs of public fatigue over some restrictions, with fewer than half of respondents saying they “always” followed rules on staying at home and limiting contact with others, according to a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Professor Rasmus Nielsen, the report’s lead author, told the PA news agency: “I think our ability as a society to respond to the pandemic is reliant on people knowing what they can do to protect themselves and those they care about.
“One of the ways in which people become informed is by following news organisations which provide accurate information.
“The group we identify as ‘vulnerable’ are those who don’t follow the news regularly and don’t have trust in the news.
“If they end up either less informed or uninformed, they risk being less able to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“The particular concern is they are misinformed, relying on sources that can be downright harmful.
“It could be conspiracy theories, it can be very well-intentioned but unproven and ineffective forms of supposedly alternative medicine, other remedies, or other information that contains a kernel of truth but is inaccurate in other ways.”
Around 15% of people polled by YouGov in the middle of August said they consumed little or no news about Covid-19, and would not trust it even if they did.
This compares with just 6% deemed “infodemically vulnerable” by report authors when the same survey was carried in early April, just a few weeks into lockdown.
The report, which is based on surveys of at least 1,000 people in the UK within the same sample group, states: “The infodemically vulnerable represent a small but significant and growing part of the population more at risk of being (at best) less informed than the public at large, and (at worst) being uninformed and more susceptible to outright misinformation.”
The data suggested that trust in the Government dropped from 67% to 45% in four months, and from 38% to 22% for politicians in general.
Trust in news organisations as a source of information about the pandemic fell from 57% in April to 45% in August, while 82% believed what scientists were saying – down from 88% of respondents towards the start of lockdown.
The percentage of people who accessed coronavirus news on a daily basis also tailed off as the pandemic continued – from 86% of those aged 55 and over in April, to 67% in August.
Similarly, among people aged 18-54, the percentage dropped from 74% to 46% during that four-month period.
In August, only 61% of respondents said the news media “explained what I can do in response to the pandemic”, down from 73% of respondents in April.
Meanwhile, only 58% said the same about the Government in August, down from 67% in April.
Separate data between June and August showed a noticeable decrease in the percentage of people “always” following lockdown rules.
This included a drop from 67% to 47% of those always limiting contact with others, and a decrease to 44% of people who stayed home “as much as possible”, down from 60% of respondents.
Prof Neilsen added: “As we go into a second wave … I think we are having some really rough months ahead of us in terms of making sure the whole public really feel they are being helped to navigate this situation rather than being left to their own devices.”