Comment on Ofcom report on coronavirus fake news

April 9, 2020

NEWS FROM THE OPEN KNOWLEDGE FOUNDATION

EMBARGO: 00:01, THURSDAY, APRIL 9

COMMENT ON OFCOM REPORT ON CORONAVIRUS FAKE NEWS

A study by Ofcom has found that almost half of UK online adults came across false or misleading information about coronavirus in the last week.

The most common piece of false information around coronavirus was the claim that drinking more water can flush out the infection.

Many people (40 per cent) are finding it hard to know what is true or false about the virus.

The Open Knowledge Foundation has been campaigning against disinformation on the internet.

Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “The spread of fake news and disinformation about the coronavirus crisis is deeply concerning.

“Tech giants have a responsibility to increase transparency and work closely with fact checkers to prevent the spread of disinformation, and governments across the world should use their influence to ensure this happens.

“The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists and researchers to provide facts to the public.

“Open data is a force for good in these troubled times – not least because this will lead to the restoration of confidence in experts.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

Ofcom press release:

Embargoed until 00:01 on Thursday 9 April 2020

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

Ofcom is conducting weekly research to help understand how people are receiving and acting on information during the current pandemic.[1]

Our first results from week 1 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 (seen by 35% of online adults). That is followed by claims that it can be alleviated by gargling with saltwater, or avoiding cold food and drink – both pieces of misinformation seen by nearly a quarter (24%) of online adults.[2]

Among people who have been exposed to falsehoods about the virus, two thirds (66%) are seeing it every day. Ofcom’s research also shows that:

• Most people (55%) are ignoring false claims about coronavirus. Fifteen per cent are using fact-checking tips from the media, such as the BBC’s website, while a similar proportion (13%) are double-checking with friends and family. One in 14 people are forwarding on false or misleading information about the virus. • Many people (40%) are finding it hard to know what is true or false about the virus. This rises to more than half (52%) of 18-24 year-olds. • Younger people are following official advice less closely. Virtually all people who took part in the survey said they are closely following the official advice to practice social distancing (98%); only go outside for essential reasons (97%); and wash their hands regularly (96%). However, only 65% of people said they were following handwashing advice very closely, and this falls to 43% among 18-24s.

Getting news about the pandemic

Almost all online adults (99%) are getting news and information about coronavirus at least once a day, while one in four (24%) are doing so 20 or more times each day. But conversely, more than one in five (22%) said they are trying to avoid 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 with news about coronavirus. Average daily news viewing across all channels was up by 92% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Both BBC News and Sky News have also seen their viewing more than double year-on-year. The Prime Minister’s Statement, which aired on 23 March, is the most-watched programme of 2020 so far; an average of 28 million viewers tuned in across the six channels it was shown on.[3]

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.

Many of these focus on debunking common misconceptions or harmful claims about the coronavirus. But there are also useful tips on how to seek out reliable content; how to tell fact from fiction; and how to find out who is behind particular claims.

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

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director for Strategy and Research, said: “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.”

ENDS

Contact: Alan Roden at alan.roden@okfn.org or +44 (0)7753 904 531

ABOUT OPEN KNOWLEDGE FOUNDATION

Our vision is for a future that is fair, free and open. Our mission is to create a more open world – a world where all non-personal information is open, free for everyone to use, build on and share; and creators and innovators are fairly recognised and rewarded.

Open knowledge is any content, information or data that people are free to use, re-use and redistribute without any legal, technological or social restriction.

Through teaching, creating and campaigning, we are working for a fair, free and open future for all. For over a decade, we have pioneered openness and data literacy in new areas using technology, training, policy advice and research.

Read more here: https://okfn.org

The Open Knowledge Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation. It is incorporated in England & Wales as a company limited by guarantee, with company number 05133759. Registered office address: 86 - 90 Paul Street, London EC2A 4NE, UK.

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