Do Chinese netizens cross-verify the accuracy of unofficial social media information before changing health behaviors during COVID-19? A Web-based study in China

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



JMIR public health and surveillance




BACKGROUND: As social media platforms have become significant sources of information during the pandemic, a significant volume of both factual and inaccurate information related to the prevention of COVID-19 has been disseminated through social media. Thus, disparities in COVID-19 information verification across populations have the potential to promote the dissemination of misinformation among clustered groups of people with similar characteristics. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to identify the characteristics of social media users who obtained COVID-19 information through unofficial social media accounts, were (1) most likely to change their health behaviors according to web-based information and (2) were least likely to actively verify the accuracy of COVID-19 information, as these individuals may be susceptible to inaccurate prevention measures and exacerbate its transmission. METHODS: An online questionnaire consisting of 17 questions was disseminated by West China Hospital via its official online platforms, between May 18, 2020, and May 31, 2020. The questionnaire collected 14,509 adults' sociodemographic information, and included questions surveying Chinese netizens' knowledge about COVID-19, personal social media usage, health behavioral change tendencies, and cross-verification behaviors for web-based information during the pandemic. Multiple stepwise regression models were used to examine the relationships between social media use, behavior changes, and information cross-verification. RESULTS: Respondents who were most likely to change their health behaviors after obtaining web-based COVID-19 information from celebrities' sources had the following characteristics: females (P=0.004); age older than 50 years (P=0.009); those with a higher COVID-19 knowledge and health literacy(both P<0.05); nonhealthcare professionals (P=0.017); those with a higher frequency of searching on social media (P<0.001); those with better health conditions(P<0.001); and those reporting trust score rating of more than 3 for information released by celebrities on social media (P<0.05). Furthermore, among participants who were most likely to change their health behaviors according to social media information released by celebrities, women (P<0.001); living in a rural residence (P<0.05); those with self-reported medium health status and lower healthcare literacy(both P<0.05); those who less frequently sought COVID-19 information on social media (P<0.001); and those who reported a greater level of trust toward celebrities' social media accounts with a rating score greater than 1 (P<0.05) were associated with a lack of cross-verification information. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that governments, healthcare agencies, celebrities, and technicians should combine their efforts to decrease the risk of vulnerable groups that are inclined to change health behaviors according to web-based information but do not perform any fast-check verification of the accuracy of the unofficial information. More specifically, it is necessary to correct the falsehoods related to COVID-19 on social media, appropriately apply celebrities' star power, and increase Chinese netizens' awareness of information cross-verification and eHealth literacy to evaluate the veracity of web-based information. CLINICALTRIAL: None


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