Communicating for Health: How Did Indians Get Informed about COVID-19 during the Pandemic?by Sofia Imad
Meta Health COVID-19 Health
The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented amount of scientific information disseminated: throughout 2020, 11 research articles on COVID-19 were published every hour. In India, as in many other countries, the period was also marked by high levels of misinformation along with regularly changing guidelines and recommendations to keep updated with the latest evidence.
Despite significant efforts by governments and other groups to communicate latest evidence and guidelines, this situation triggered confusion and mistrust leading to low levels of uptake of COVID-19 appropriate behaviours including vaccination in some populations. Analysing communications for COVID-19, particularly trust and exposure to different sources of information, is therefore essential to understand how to build an effective mass communication campaign.
The pandemic increased people’s anxiety and worry, affecting their trust in other people and in institutions. In addition, the excess of information made it difficult to convey vital information to the general public. For instance, according to our analysis, 10.5% of adults in June 2021 had not taken the vaccine because they thought they were not eligible for the vaccines when the vaccination campaign was actually open to all adults. In this context, understanding where Indians get their information from and what they trust is essential.
The team analysed the 636,006 responses collected in India from January to September 2021 by the University of Maryland Social Data Science Center’s Global COVID-19 Trends and Impact Survey, in partnership with Facebook. Participants were surveyed about COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and uptake, preventive behaviours, symptoms, access to care, and risk factors. Since users of Facebook are not representative of India’s population, our analyses take into account the survey weights developed by Facebook to help correct this bias. In particular, we looked at respondent’s exposure to and trust in different sources of information in our analyses.
The team analysed the data to understand where people receive their information from and what they trust the most for COVID-19. The visuals show the mismatch between the trust and exposure to COVID-19 related information in India among different groups such as age, gender and settlements (urban/rural).
Some of the key insights include
- On average almost 2/3rd (62%) of the people trust scientists but a little less than 1/3rd (27%) receive their information from them. In contrast, online sources such as social media platforms and messaging applications have a wide reach (73%) but are only trusted by 24% of the people.
- Close to half (47%) of the people receive their information from government sources such as health officials and authorities and half (50%) of them trust them too.
- 39% of women receive information on COVID-19 from friends and family but only 32% of them trust this information. On the other hand, 41% of men trust information from friends and family but fewer receive information from them.
- The most common source of information for the 18-44 and 45-64 age groups is online sources (77% and 68% respectively) but it is TV (74%) for the 65+ year old age group. Scientists are the most trusted source of information across all age groups
- In urban areas, there is a lower level of trust than in rural areas for all sources - e.g. 37% urban dwellers trust information from friends & family vs 45% in rural areas. However, the levels of exposure to information are generally higher in urban areas.
This work highlights the importance of developing multi-modal population-specific communication campaigns for public health messaging. A ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be effective in communicating effectively to different audiences. The younger population overwhelmingly gets its information from online sources but have a very low level of trust in these sources. Increasing trust in online media is therefore essential and can be done in partnership with scientists or trusted global institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO). Both groups benefit from a high level of trust but low exposure. On the other hand, communication campaigns targeted at older population should primarily be done on television which remains the main source of information for this group.
Finally, the data shows a clear divide between urban areas where levels of trust are lower and rural areas where access to information is lower. While not surprising, this indicates communications campaigns should focus on parallelly building trust into and access to reliable information.
- Sofia Imad, Development Data Partnership Data Fellow
- Anushka Bhansali