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Over 80% of Ukrainians Have Been Exposed to COVID-19 Disinformation, Study Reveals

October 16, 2020
Internews worked with media watchdogs and media literacy partners to test respondents' ability to tell true stories from false ones

This year, Internews’ annual media consumption survey, supported by USAID, revealed the high degree to which Ukrainians were exposed to false rumors and disinformation about COVID-19. More than 80 percent of respondents said they were aware of false coronavirus narratives (e.g. that coronavirus is a bioweapon made in a Chinese or a US laboratory, invented by the media, or caused by the launch of 5G internet technology).

Around a third believed that such stories were true and more than a third said that they had shared this disinformation with others.  

While 77 percent of Ukrainians are aware that disinformation exists, around 62 percent of respondents said they were confident they would be able to spot disinformation when they saw it. As a result, there is a lack of a sense of urgency about disinformation: 58 percent thought that it is not a major problem as opposed to the 35 percent who thought that something should be done about it. However, respondents’ actual ability to spot disinformation did not correspond to their self-evaluation.

Internews worked with media watchdogs and media literacy partners such as the Institute of Mass Information, Academy of Ukrainian Press, Texty, and BezBrekhni to devise a short test for respondents to examine their actual ability to tell true stories from false ones. Respondents across Ukraine were asked to evaluate three reports from different online news websites – two false and one true.

The results of this test showed a decline in the number of people who were able to correctly identify the difference between true and false information in each of the three news stories provided – from 11 percent in 2019 to just three percent in 2020. About 21 percent of respondents failed to provide a correct answer, an increase from 11 percent last year. About 48 percent of respondents correctly identified at least one out of the three options and 29 percent said they didn’t know or that it was “hard to say.”

“We saw some worrying tendencies in this year’s results. News that people consume through social media platforms is not always reliable and a lot of people were exposed to false stories about COVID-19 and other important issues. The fact that a third of respondents said they would share that information more broadly – even if they did not believe it themselves – shows that we and our partners have work to do in helping Ukrainians understand that it’s important not to further share disinformation and how to exercise information hygiene,”  Internews Director in Ukraine Gillian McCormack said during the presentation of the findings.

News consumption skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic, but the survey suggests that this has led to news fatigue for many.

At the beginning of 2020, a surge of interest in news related to COVID-19 led to record audiences and ratings for media in Ukraine. However, the survey carried out in July and August recorded a considerable decline in news consumption across all media platforms compared to last year.

Television took second place again as a major source of news for the second year running. While a majority of Ukrainians use several types of media for news, the number of those relying on one source increased this year, with social media being the most frequently cited sole news source for respondents. The number of those who prefer radio and printed press continues to decline significantly.

In a mixture of face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions, researchers found that 62 percent of respondents use social media platforms to get news, a drop from 68 percent from 2019, while TV use is down to 52 percent, compared to 66 percent last year and compared to 77 percent in 2017-2018. This reflects the global trend in the growth in the popularity of digital media at the expense of television and other traditional news media.

This year also saw a decline in public trust in the nationwide television channels – now at 41 percent, down from 49 percent in 2019. The only media that made gains in trust this year were regional radio (22 percent) and regional online media (48 percent), with respondents saying that they felt they both offered a broader range of viewpoints. Both national and regional online media share the distinction of being the most trusted source of information, at 48 percent each.

The survey revealed that the share of Ukrainian internet users has risen from 71 percent in 2015 to 90 percent of Ukrainians in 2020. For the younger demographic group aged 18-35, that figure rises to 100 percent.

The number of people who said they used Russian media as a source of information increased from 13 percent in 2019 to 17 percent in 2020. Trust in Russian media sources also increased.

Finally, the survey also showed that Ukrainians felt that reporting on the reforms had declined. About 47 percent of respondents said they lacked information about healthcare reform, despite a high awareness of it – at 55 percent. Compared with last year, public awareness of land reforms went up from 35 to 53 percent, while the numbers on decentralization reform awareness slipped from 46 to 35 percent and those on pension reform from 48 to 43 percent.

Download the full presentation (PDF): 2020 Media Consumption Survey (English)

The 2020 Media Consumption Survey was conducted by InMind at the request of Internews, an international media development organization that is implementing the Media Program in Ukraine with financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The survey’s main objectives are to define Ukrainians’ media habits and measure their trust in media, media literacy, and awareness of Ukraine’s reforms process. InMind representatives interviewed 4,000 people across 12 regions between July and August 2020. The sampling error is no greater than 2.5 percent.

Since 1993, Internews has worked in Ukraine with journalists, public officials, civil society activists and citizens to improve the quality and impact of a vibrant, independent news media. This survey is made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of Internews and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Regions:
Ukraine

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