Coronavirus causes huge growth in demand for trustworthy news

Questionable news sites have seen a drop in clicks while more traditional outlets have enjoyed fresh popularity, though whether it lasts after the pandemic remains to be seen.

The Economist has published new figures that show many of us flocked to mainstream news websites from early March onward at the height of the Coronavirus panic, suggesting that demand for less legitimate sites slows down in moments of crisis.

These figures are taken from research into human behaviour by the University of Michigan which found that the public ‘fly to quality publications’ when faced with uncertainty. The Coronavirus is one of the biggest upsets to modern life in living memory and we’ve seen a plethora of fake news and conspirator misinformation flood the internet since January. Just take a look at this video by the BBC that highlights various conspiracies that have floated about the last few months.

Wanting to know what’s actually real and what isn’t is the priority for most of us when our health is at stake, and avoiding these types of dangerous conspiracies seems to be a common behaviour for most of the public.

Researchers Paul Resnick and James Park at the University of Michigan created two tools to measure the popularity of English news stories on Facebook and Twitter. The first of these is called the ‘Mainstream Quotient’, which counts the amount of mainstream news sources that were highly shared online, while the second is the ‘Iffy Quotient’ which – as you may expect – counts the less reliable news websites. Misinformation tracker NewsGuard was used to determine which sites fit into each quotient.

Over the last few months, researchers found that the Mainstream Quotient grew significantly, while the Iffy Quotient plummeted. When political biases and interpretive narratives take a backseat to a need for immediate, factual information, sites such as the BBC and The Guardian seem to receive significant surges in online traffic.

Experts say that things are already beginning to shift back to normal, however, suggesting that the public’s general panic levels are subsiding and political discourse is taking precedence once again. It’s probably not a coincidence that the US Election is approaching in November either, which can encourage echo-chamber discussion and the spreading of false information on both sides of the voting spectrum.

We’ll have to see if things truly return to pre-pandemic levels but, as things stand, reliability and well-cited news has triumphed in 2020.

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