Trends and predictors of COVID-19 information sources and their relationship with knowledge and beliefs related to the pandemic: Nationwide cross-sectional study

Shahmir H. Ali, Joshua Foreman, Yesim Tozan, Ariadna Capasso, Abbey M. Jones, Ralph J. DiClemente

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a heightened need to understand health information seeking behaviors to address disparities in knowledge and beliefs about the crisis. Objective: This study assessed sociodemographic predictors of the use and trust of different COVID-19 information sources, as well as the association between information sources and knowledge and beliefs about the pandemic. Methods: An online survey was conducted among US adults in two rounds during March and April 2020 using advertisement-based recruitment on social media. Participants were asked about their use of 11 different COVID-19 information sources as well as their most trusted source of information. The selection of COVID-related knowledge and belief questions was based on past empirical literature and salient concerns at the time of survey implementation. Results: The sample consisted of 11,242 participants. When combined, traditional media sources (television, radio, podcasts, or newspapers) were the largest sources of COVID-19 information (91.2%). Among those using mainstream media sources for COVID-19 information (n=7811, 69.5%), popular outlets included CNN (24.0%), Fox News (19.3%), and other local or national networks (35.2%). The largest individual information source was government websites (87.6%). They were also the most trusted source of information (43.3%), although the odds of trusting government websites were lower among males (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.58, 95% CI 0.53-0.63) and those aged 40-59 years and ≥60 years compared to those aged 18-39 years (AOR 0.83, 95% CI 0.74-0.92; AOR 0.62, 95% CI 0.54-0.71). Participants used an average of 6.1 sources (SD 2.3). Participants who were male, aged 40-59 years or ≥60 years; not working, unemployed, or retired; or Republican were likely to use fewer sources while those with children and higher educational attainment were likely to use more sources. Participants surveyed in April were markedly less likely to use (AOR 0.41, 95% CI 0.35-0.46) and trust (AOR 0.51, 95% CI 0.47-0.56) government sources. The association between information source and COVID-19 knowledge was mixed, while many COVID-19 beliefs were significantly predicted by information source; similar trends were observed with reliance on different types of mainstream media outlets. Conclusions: COVID-19 information source was significantly determined by participant sociodemographic characteristics and was also associated with both knowledge and beliefs about the pandemic. Study findings can help inform COVID-19 health communication campaigns and highlight the impact of using a variety of different and trusted information sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere21071
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Infectious disease
  • Information seeking behaviors
  • Outbreak
  • Pandemic
  • Social media
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics


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