Poll reveals fears about coronavirus misinformation

January 7, 2021 BY

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (left) makes a coffee at Bomboras, as Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson and Bomboras co-owner Josh McGrath look on. Photo: JAMES TAYLOR

A new poll has revealed Australians fear unchecked misinformation online could derail national COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and want to see greater transparency about the extent of the problem.

The YouGov poll, conducted in mid-December, found 85 per cent of respondents agreed misleading claims about a COVID-19 vaccine on social media would discourage Australians from being vaccinated.

Meanwhile, 65 per cent of those surveyed would like to see greater transparency from social media platforms about the extent of misinformation.

Reset Australia, an affiliate of a global initiative working to counter digital threats to democracy, commissioned the poll.

“We can’t begin to plan a vaccine rollout without tackling vaccine misinformation online,” Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said.

He said misinformation about COVID-19 was amplified by social media algorithms during the pandemic, but public health officials had little visibility about the extent of the problem due to online echo chambers.

“Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some of us into echo chambers where false information is all we see.

“Algorithms amplify the most sensationalist or conspiratorial content to keep us engaged and online longer, but that’s often not factual or accurate information.

“We all know misinformation is out there, but we don’t have a bird’s eye view of the scale of the problem. Only the platforms do – which is why they need to be compelled to list the most shared content about COVID-19.”

Reset Australia has been campaigning for a Live List, which would see digital platforms compelled to maintain a list of the most viral URLs being shared on the platforms.

This list could be used by public health officials, journalists, and academics to effectively track and trace misinformation online and then better target public health messaging.

“Australian authorities and the Australian public should be able to answer questions like: What kind of content is being amplified by these platforms? Who made it? What kind of demographics are consuming it? To do that we need a live list of the most contentious issues our society is facing, so we can begin to tackle misinformation collectively and transparently.

“Tech giants have created platforms that produce both mega-profits and serious societal problems. If they accept the profits, they must also accept the oversight.”