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“Astounding 16x increase in less than a month”: People turn to trustworthy publishers as Coronavirus dominates social media

Echobox, a social media platform for publishers, tracked more than 2.3M stories shared to social media by 700 leading publishers, in more than 50 countries, through most of the first quarter of the year. The company looked at how many of those mentioned the words “corona” or “covid” in the shared messages. 

They found that “shares about coronavirus have increased exponentially since mid-February – an astounding 16x increase in less than a month.”

The report, “How coronavirus has changed the face of news in less than 30 days,” notes that “global shares related to coronavirus have increased exponentially…but only since community transmission took hold in Europe.” It has also found that shares in individual countries jumped after news of domestic spread. 

Social media analytics platform Sprinklr told Recode that mentions of “coronavirus” across social platforms and news media really started to take off in late February. This was after the news of the first coronavirus case of unknown origin, also known as community spread, emerged in the US. 

Coronavirus revives Facebook as a news powerhouse

Social media marketing company Socialbakers’ new report states,“following a few upticks in early and late February, the amount of interactions on brand posts mentioning coronavirus really picked up at the beginning of March and skyrocketed in the following weeks.”

The report notes, “One of the largest single-day increases in mentions on both platforms was on March 16, and the highest number of mentions for both came on March 17. 

“On March 16, the New York mayor ordered the city’s bars, theaters, and cinemas closed – a sign of the increasing cases in the US – and several other countries closed their borders. Those developments changed things for a lot of brands, and many people were seeking answers, too.” 

As we become more isolated physically, social media and the web will also have to shoulder the world’s information needs as more and more people seek timely and local information.

Joan Donovan, Director, Technology and Social Change Research Project, Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center

Grad Conn, Sprinklr CXMO, said “Global social media usage rates have grown by about 50% since 2014, when the Ebola epidemic was happening worldwide. And recent major news stories — including climate change, sporting, and political events — have not had the same global impact as coronavirus on individuals, businesses, and governments.”

“Beyond encouraging more virtual conversation between family and friends, the fast-changing nature of the coronavirus could translate to more users tracking real-time news updates via social media,” adds a recent report by eMarketer and Business Insider Intelligence.

Posts mentioning the coronavirus have been far more common on Facebook than on Instagram, according to Socialbakers. This suggests that people are turning to Facebook more often when looking for news and updates.

In fact, according to The New York Times, coronavirus has revived Facebook as a news powerhouse. The newspaper got access to an internal Facebook report which found that more than half of all news consumption on Facebook in America is about the virus. 

Misinformation spreading at “alarming rate”

But there is a catch to news sharing on social media. It is also a fertile ground for spreading misinformation. “Over the past few weeks, misinformation about the new coronavirus pandemic has been spreading across social media at an alarming rate,” writes Misha Ketchell, Editor at The Conversation Media Group. 

He adds, “Initial evidence suggests that many people are unintentionally sharing misinformation about COVID-19 because they fail to stop and think sufficiently about whether the content is accurate.” 

As COVID-19 spreads in the US, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which didn’t exist or barely existed during past major outbreaks, are facilitating important conversations about the virus, while at the same time allowing sensationalism and misinformation to spread.

Alejandro de la Garza, Reporter, TIME

While social media companies have stepped up efforts to combat misinformation, “finding ways to stop misinformation created by real-life users from going viral is proving to be a daunting task,” writes Mark Scott, Chief Technology Correspondent at POLITICO. 

Most of the social media companies are now actively promoting reliable sources. 

In the UK, “both Facebook and Twitter are promoting official NHS guidance, providing links to NHS advice in users’ feeds and when they search for coronavirus-related terms. Google, often the first port of call for health advice, is promoting official advice,” reports the Guardian.

The report adds, “The BBC, having spent recent months being attacked and stonewalled by the government, is emphasizing its role in disseminating accurate, timely information about public health issues.”

The outbreak has forced the government, which has put great weight on bypassing traditional media outlets, to reconsider its relationship with the broadcaster, comment Guardian’s Jim Waterson and Dan Sabbagh.

“People are looking for reliable info”

Also what’s heartening to know is that users are clicking more on links to high quality publishers. This was one of the observations in the Facebook report accessed by NYT.

Some of the publishers that have seen traffic surges include The Washington Post which got 119% more clicks on its Facebook links during a two-week period in March, compared to the same period in February. The Atlantic saw quadrupling of traffic over the same period. The Times’ Facebook traffic jumped by 180%, while traffic to NBC News increased by 160%.

Everybody needs to get their news from legitimate places, not from their friend’s friend’s friend’s friend.

Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts

The report notes that local news publishers received a bigger boost in traffic than non-local outlets, reflecting users’ interest in how the virus is affecting their immediate communities.

“Publishers become vital sources of information and analysis”

Moreover, Simon Rogers, Data Editor at Google says that much of the searches center around a clear desire for useful information. “People are not panic searching,” Rogers told Recode. “People are looking for reliable info like, ‘How long should I wash my hands?’”

This crisis clearly presents a huge opportunity for publishers to serve their readers. Many are already doing so with gusto and despite severe challenges, like having journalists work from home. Many are looking at reduced ad revenues, but there are also reports of spike in paid subscriptions

“It’s clear that as a topic, coronavirus has taken over the news sharing agenda in many countries around the world in dramatic fashion. This dominance has occurred incredibly quickly – in a way that most are unlikely to have seen before,” comment the authors of the Echobox report. 

“In uncertain and unprecedented times like these, and when demand for the latest news has never been greater, publishers become vital sources of information and analysis – on a local, national and international level. It is therefore more important than ever before that the crucial role that journalism performs in times of crisis is fully recognized and understood.”