Study: Latvian society and COVID-19 news

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Constant news about the pandemic and COVID-19 virus tend to worry and bring people down. Social sciences expert, Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) professor Anda Rožukalne has conducted a study on Latvian society’s attitude towards COVID-19 related news.

More than half of all 1005 respondents regularly follow the most important news on COVID-19, but nearly as many say they have lost interest or are tired of these news. 32% said that they actively avoid news related to COVID-19. This is more than in the UK, where 22% actively avoid these news.

Looking at what might influence the attitude towards news, the respondents were separated in categories depending on their self-assessment on their personal risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Five groups were distinguished:

  • not concerned, who assess the risks to become ill as low and unreal (14%)
  • a little concerned, who think that the risk is low but real (46%)
  • moderately concerned, who think the risk is moderate and real (22%)
  • rather concerned, who think that the possibility is high and real (9%)
  • very concerned, who assess the risk as very high and very real (3%).

The attitude toward news is directly linked to risk assessment: the higher the concern, the more often people seek news and information. The groups who are rather concerned or very concerned have more people with poor state of health. The group who is least concerned has a higher number of respondents aged 25 to 44, males, people with basic education.

Attitude changes

More than  half of the respondents (55%), though tired and worried, do follow the information (figure no.1). The higher the level of concern, the more ready a person is to regularly update his/her knowledge on COVID-19. The least frequent news followers (21%) are those who are not worried about getting sick.

Figure 1. I try to regularly follow news about COVID-19. N=1005

  Very few respondents regularly participate in social media discussion about COVID-19 (6%). Those who are more concerned about their health state do it more often. Similarly, those who are more concerned tend to inform others about news.

COVID-19 news impact

News have a significant influence: 37% of the respondents agree that following news about COVID-19 makes them feel safer and plan their lives more easily. Of those who are not concerned, just one in six agrees to this statement. 

More than half of the respondents (53%) agree that they have lost interest in COVID-19 news or are tired of those (figure no.2). Those who are not concerned agree to this most frequently (83%).

Figure no.2. I have lost interest/am tired of COVID-19 news. N=1005.

Loss of interest encourages active avoiding. Those who are more interested agree less frequently that they actively avoid COVID-19 news; whereas 76% of those who are not concerned have said they avoid COVID-19 related news.

Figure no.3. I actively avoid COVID-19 related news. N=1005

The survey data show that it is possible to follow the news, feel safer and more distraught at the same time. Insecurity is caused by overall uncertainty and the contradictory nature of news. One in five respondents has said he/she feels unsafe.

The news also impact people’s response behavior, 27% people pay attention to the pandemic and comply with restrictions because of news. 

Concern about one’s health makes people comply with rules even more, 34% of the moderately concerned and 44% of the rather concerned group agree that news impact their behavior. Of those not concerned, only 5% agree to this. 

39% of the respondents doubt whether the news are telling the truth. Most frequently those are the ones who are not concerned: 64%. Similarly, 69% of the unconcerned group says the news about COVID-19 have no impact on them (38% of all respondents).

One in three (27%) say that following COVID-19 news takes too much time. This statement is mostly agreed with by those not concerned (45%).

Currently, the rate of infected people in Latvia is growing and people’s interest is increasing. However, consumption of news is not equal to perception. Perception depends on risk assessment and news content. Risk self-assessment, in turn, depends on health state, education, material status, security related to finance, family, health.

COVID-19 news content is disquieting, it is understandable that it causes concern and after a longer period of time it tires the reader. News quality is of great importance: even if the content is contradictory, more explanations are better than uncertainty, as uncertainty increases hopelessness, powerlessness, and encourages avoiding news.

Data from research “Dzīve ar COVID-19: Novērtējums par koronavīrusa izraisītās krīzes pārvarēšanu Latvijā un priekšlikumi sabiedrības noturībai nākotnē”. Internet survey conducted by SKDS. 

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