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New poll: How many New Zealanders have seen Covid conspiracies online?

As Auckland faced the resurgence of coronavirus, misinformation proliferated, and a lot of people encountered it, according to the latest Stickybeak poll for The Spinoff. Plus: What is Facebook’s impact on NZ society?

With a third of New Zealand under alert level three lockdown, recent weeks have seen false claims around the source of the re-emergence shared widely. One item of disinformation relating to the way Covid-19 entered the community led to the health minister, Chris Hipkins, directly condemning “vile slurs” and “a deliberate act of misinformation”.

He told media on August 16: “Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong.” The rumour “smacked of orchestration, of being a deliberate act of misinformation … deliberately designed to create panic, fear and confusion, and it is completely unacceptable”, he added, urging people to “think twice” before sharing unverified claims.

There have been numerous other examples of misinformation circulating that build on or exploit fears about the Covid-19 pandemic, ranging from bogus treatments to links to 5G.

The latest Stickybeak poll for The Spinoff, conducted between August 16 and 21, asked respondents if they had personally seen conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 shared on social media in the last week or so. Almost three in four had.

Earlier in the month, the National Party deputy leader, Gerry Brownee, faced criticisms that he had dog-whistled conspiracy theories by pointing to “interesting series of facts”; in effect, implying, without any evidence, that the government had misled about how much, and when, they knew about the Covid-19 cases revealed on August 11.

Was that a view that had caught on? According to our poll, 22% did not believe the government had been honest about when it learned of the new cases; 62% believed it had been honest, and the remainder were unsure.

Easily the main misinformation distribution engine – in line with being the predominant social medium – is Facebook. The online behemoth has come under considerable pressure in recent times, with a widespread boycott mounted around the world. In New Zealand, the country’s largest news publisher, the newly independent Stuff, has entirely ceased sharing its content on Facebook.

The Christchurch mosque attack, which is back in headlines owing to the sentencing this week, was infamously livestreamed on Facebook. Despite that, and the criticisms of the site’s role in the dissemination of false information, Jacinda Ardern has continued to use Facebook both to deliver video messages directly and for multi-million-dollar government advertising campaigns.

For the latest Stickbeak/Spinoff poll we asked for views on Facebook’s impact on New Zealand society. Almost half of those surveyed believed the social network’s impact is negative, with only 11% believing its impact is positive.

On the misinformation point, Facebook last week told The Spinoff in a statement: “We have removed seven million pieces of false information about the virus including false cures, claims that coronavirus doesn’t exist, that it’s caused by 5G or that social distancing is ineffective. We use several automated detection mechanisms to block violating material on our platform and have removed millions of ads and commerce listings for violating our policies related to Covid-19.”

The survey, as reported earlier this week, also showed that support for the government measures remains solid, while 78% support the “elimination strategy”. It also revealed a drop in the number of people who say they are complying with the alert level rules compared with last time around.

About the study

Respondents were self-selecting participants, recruited via Facebook and Instagram.

A total of n=601 sample was achieved of adults in New Zealand, with 217 of those in Auckland.

Results in this report are weighted by age, gender and region to statistics from the 2018 Census.

For a random sample of this size and after accounting for weighting the maximum sampling error (using 95% confidence) is approximately ±4%.

The study went into the field on Sunday August 16 and was completed on Friday August 21.

About Stickybeak

Stickybeak is a New Zealand startup launched globally last June, that uses chatbots to make quantitative market research more conversational and therefore less boring and even fun for respondents. Unlike conventional research which uses panels of professional paid responders, Stickybeak recruits unique respondents fresh for each survey via social media.



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