People who rely exclusively on Facebook for news and information about the coronavirus are less likely than the average American to have been vaccinated, according to a new survey.

Our findings do not necessarily mean that social media use causes misperceptions or vaccine skepticism,” said co-author Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information who is part of a coalition of researchers from Rutgers-New Brunswick, Northeastern, Harvard and Northwestern universities. “But it does tell us there is a large group of vaccine skeptics who disproportionately rely on Facebook for health information. Those may be people who simply don't trust the media or political institutions to tell them the truth but it's possible their attitudes are exacerbated by the content they encounter on online platforms.

The researchers say Facebook consumers are less likely to be vaccinated than those who get their COVID-19 information from Fox News.

In the June survey by the COVID States Project, researchers asked questions regarding the sourcesFacebook, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Biden administration and Newsmax—that people use for news or information on COVID-19. The data suggests that Facebook is a major source of information, comparable with CNN or Fox News. 

According to the survey, the vaccination rates of people who get COVID-19 news through Facebook are lower than the overall population: 61 percent of users versus 68 percent of the eligible U.S. population and 71 percent for those who don’t use Facebook. 

But of the 31 percent of respondents who said they use Facebook for news about COVID-19 in the 24 hours before taking the survey, about half said Facebook was the only source asked about from which they received information. Of those surveyed, 47 percent reported being vaccinated, while 25 percent said they do not intend to get the vaccine.

Ognyanova says Newsmax was the only information source in the survey whose audience had lower vaccination levels and higher vaccine resistance than users who got their health news from Facebook. 

People who rely exclusively on Facebook for pandemic coverage were also more likely to believe misinformation (with 22 percent believing at least one false claim such as vaccines will alter people’s DNA or vaccines contain microchips that could track people). Thirty-seven percent of people who rely on Newsmax and 21 percent of people who rely on Fox News (21 percent) for COVID-19 information had beliefs in misinformation. People who looked at multiple sources of information—but not Facebook, Newsmax or Fox News—had far lower levels, with just 7 percent believing at least one false claim.

The survey also found people with greater reliance on Facebook are less trusting of the media. Only 37 percent of the people who got their news exclusively through Facebook in the preceding 24 hours reported trusting the media “some” or “a lot”; compared to 47 percent for everyone else. 

According to the researchers, the findings point to the importance of evaluating what people see on social media over time and how that is related to subsequent changes in attitudes and behaviors.

The researchers polled 20,699 Americans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

The COVID States Project is a joint project of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, the Network Science Institute of Northeastern University, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, and the Department of Political Science and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. 

The consortium has released 57 reports and charted public opinion related to COVID-19 topics since April 2020. It is the largest ongoing national survey tracking people’s opinions and behavior during the pandemic.

The report can be viewed here.