Navigating the Romanian ‘Infodemic’: A Replication of the Reuters Study on Accessing and Rating News and Information about Coronavirus

Nicoleta Corbu, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration

Two members of the Romanian Youcheck! team, Alina Bârgăoanu and Nicoleta Corbu, with their colleague from SNSPA, Raluca Buturoiu, have replicated the Reuters Study on news consumption and disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. A preliminary report with graphs will be released very soon. Here are some insights into the Romanian findings, compared to the six countries analyzed in the initial report:

  • The main source of news in Romania remains the TV (83%), closely followed by online news (including social media) (79%). Romania and Germany are the only countries in which TV is still more important than the Internet as a source of news. (UK: TV – 70%; online – 79%; US: TV – 58%; Online – 72%; Germany TV – 72%; online – 69%; Spain: TV – 71%; online – 83%; South Korea: TV – 65%; online – 85%; Argentina: TV – 77%; online – 90%)
  • In terms of social media platforms used to get information about coronavirus, the preferred platform of the Romanians is Facebook (68%), followed by Google search (60%) and Youtube (38%). Instagram (16%) and Twitter (9%) remain largely unused as a source of news. From this point of view, Romania has a somewhat similar pattern with Argentina (Facebook 53%; Google search 65%), and, to some extent, with Spain (Facebook 42%; Google search 55%). For all other countries, the social media platforms are much less used to access coronavirus information, rarely reaching more than 40% of the online population. One exception is South Korea, for which Naver, the Korean search engine, is used by 63% of the online population to access information related to the pandemic.
  • Trust in institutions is a very interesting indicator to look at in times of crisis. In a hierarchy of trust, scientists, doctors and health experts are the most reliable sources of information about coronavirus (with as much as 90% of people trusting them in Argentina, and about 80% (plus-minus) in the other countries. Romania and Germany have the lowest levels of trust in scientists (both 74%). In most countries, second and third come the national health organizations and global health organizations: in US, UK, Germany, and South Korea people tend to trust a little bit more the national organizations, while in Spain, Argentina, and Romania they trust more the global ones. People in all countries (with few exceptions) tend to trust less news organizations, national Governments, people they know, politicians, and people they don’t know, generally in this order.
  • People’s perceptions about fake news incidence are reported in terms of false and misleading information they have seen in various sources “in the last week”. There are many differences between countries, but there is relative consensus that that highest amount of “fake news” comes from “people I don’t know” and “politicians”.
  • Romania is the most extreme country in terms of media’s role in the pandemic. More than 57% of people feel that media exaggerated the pandemic, as opposed to 23% in South Korea or 26% in Germany.
  • Conspiracy theories are flourishing during these times. In Romania, 44% of people believe the virus was made in a laboratory. People in the other six countries are much less prone to adhering to conspiracy theories: In Spain 29%, in Argentina 28%, in US 23%, in South Korea 21%, in Germany 15%, and in UK 14% of the people believe the virus to be artificially manufactured.

These are just a few insights into the more complex report that will be released soon. Generally speaking, news consumption during the coronavirus crisis has increased dramatically, but so did the fake news consumption. Studies like this suggest that there is a very high need for tools and instruments to help people “navigate” the infodemic, and Youcheck! and similar projects are doing just that.