Cross-Verification of COVID-19 Information Obtained From Unofficial Social Media Accounts and Associated Changes in Health Behaviors: Web-Based Questionnaire Study Among Chinese Netizens

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



JMIR public health and surveillance








COVID-19; behavior change; eHealth literacy; information cross-verification; pandemic; social media


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 and were (1) most likely to change their health behaviors according to web-based information and (2) least likely to actively verify the accuracy of COVID-19 information, as these individuals may be susceptible to inaccurate prevention measures and may exacerbate 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 the sociodemographic information of 14,509 adults, and included questions surveying Chinese netizens' knowledge about COVID-19, personal social media use, 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 celebrity sources had the following characteristics: female sex (P=.004), age ≥50 years (P=.009), higher COVID-19 knowledge and health literacy (P=.045 and P=.03, respectively), non-health care professional (P=.02), higher frequency of searching on social media (P<.001), better health conditions (P<.001), and a trust rating score of more than 3 for information released by celebrities on social media (P=.005). Furthermore, among participants who were most likely to change their health behaviors according to social media information released by celebrities, female sex (P<.001), living in a rural residence rather than first-tier city (P<.001), self-reported medium health status and lower health care literacy (P=.007 and P<.001, respectively), less frequent search for COVID-19 information on social media (P<.001), and greater level of trust toward celebrities' social media accounts with a trust rating score greater than 1 (P≤.04) were associated with a lack of cross-verification of information. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that governments, health care agencies, celebrities, and technicians should combine their efforts to decrease the risk in vulnerable groups that are inclined to change health behaviors according to web-based information but do not perform any fact-check verification of the accuracy of the unofficial information. Specifically, it is necessary to correct the false information related to COVID-19 on social media, appropriately apply celebrities' star power, and increase Chinese netizens' awareness of information cross-verification and eHealth literacy for evaluating the veracity of web-based information.


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