Perceived prevalence of misinformation fuels worries about COVID-19: a cross-country, multi-method investigation

Jörg Matthes, Nicoleta Corbu, Soyeon Jin, Yannis Theocharis, Christian Schemer, Peter van Aelst, Jesper Strömbäck, Karolina Koc-Michalska, Frank Esser, Toril Aalberg, Ana Sofia Cardenal, Laia Castro, Claes de Vreese, David Hopmann, Tamir Sheafer, Sergio Splendore, James Stanyer, Agnieszka Stępińska, Václav Štětka, Alon Zoizner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Data suggests that the majority of citizens in various countries came across ‘fake news’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. We test the relationship between perceived prevalence of misinformation and people’s worries about COVID-19. In Study 1, analyses of a survey across 17 countries indicate a positive association: perceptions of high prevalence of misinformation are correlated with high worries about COVID-19. However, the relationship is weaker in countries with higher levels of case-fatality ratios, and independent from the actual amount of misinformation per country. Study 2 replicates the relationship using experimental data. Furthermore, Study 2 demonstrates the underlying mechanism, that is, perceived prevalence of misinformation fosters the belief that COVID-19 is spiralling out of control, which in turn, increases worries. Our findings suggest that perceived prevalence of misinformation can have significant psychological effects, even though audience members reject the information as being false.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3135-3158
Number of pages24
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • COVID-19
  • misinformation
  • trust
  • worry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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