Americans Use Social Media for COVID-19 Information, Connection

Article

Social media platforms have become saturated with coronavirus-related news, with 46% percent of social media users saying “almost all” or “most” of what they see is about the coronavirus situation and an additional 37% saying “about half” is.

These results are from an April 14-20 Gallup/Knight Foundation survey focused on the coronavirus situation, part of the Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative. 

Over two-thirds of social media users say coronavirus-related posts they see from public officials (70%) and news organizations (68%) are “very” or “moderately helpful.” Fifty-seven percent say the same about posts from family members and friends, while fewer say so about posts from neighbors (43%).

Roughly eight in 10 Democrats who use social media say they find posts by news organizations and public officials to be helpful, significantly higher percentages than other party groups give to those same sources, or any other source, of social media posts.  Republicans, who tend to have very low levels of trust in news media, are less likely to find social media posts by news organizations helpful, but still half of Republican social media users do.

Communications from public officials through these platforms are regarded as helpful across all social media users regardless of the match between their party affiliation and the party leanings of their local area, however somewhat less so among Republicans living in Democratic areas. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans who live in deep Democratic counties find posts from public officials helpful, compared with 64% in swing counties and 70% in deep Republican counties. For Democrats, nearly 80% find such posts helpful regardless of the partisan composition of the county in which they live.

How social media matters during social isolation

Despite significant changes to many Americans’ daily routines and media consumption brought about the coronavirus situation, most (57%) do not report any change to their social media habits, while 25% say they are using it more often and 7% less often. The remaining 10% do not use social media. Women (31%) are slightly more likely than men (18%) to report using social media more often during the current pandemic.

While social media habits have largely remained steady, many users recognize the important role these platforms play in staying connected during social isolation. Seventy-four percent of Americans who use social media say it has been “very important” or “moderately important” to them personally as a way to stay connected with people who are close to them that they may not be able to see in person during the coronavirus situation. And 63% say the same about the ability to stay connected with people in their city, town or local community. Fewer social media users say it served as an important source of information about coronavirus and how to avoid being infected (48%) or a way to share experiences, feelings, and opinions about the coronavirus with others (41%).

A gender gap is evident in the perceived importance of social media during coronavirus. Women are more likely than men to say it is important across all dimensions, but the differences are largest in terms of staying connected with friends, family, and the local community.

Younger and older social media users largely agree on what roles social media has fulfilled during the coronavirus. However, social media users 55 years and older are slightly more likely to say it is an important source of information about coronavirus and how to avoid being infected than younger users.

Implications

With the extended period of social isolation across much of the United States, many social media users recognize the important role these platforms have played to keep them connected to their friends, family, and communities. Nearly half of Americans who use social media also say it has been an important source of information about the coronavirus, with most characterizing posts about the coronavirus situation from newspaper organizations and public officials as helpful.

As Gallup and Knight have reported previously, Americans are skeptical toward internet technology companies, like social media platforms. Despite this skepticism, the public appears generally positive toward the role social media have played during the coronavirus pandemic.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup/Knight Foundation survey are based on internet interviews conducted April 14-20, 2020, with a random sample of 1,693 adults, ages 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia who are members of Gallup’s panel. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.