Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut

Almost half of the internet users receive misinformation on the coronavirus

Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut

Almost half of the adult online users in Germany (46%) state that they have seen false or misleading information about Covid-19 within one week. The greatest concerns about encountering false information about the coronavirus are towards Facebook (28%) and messenger apps (14 %) as well as towards activists as senders (31%). Journalistic actors play only a minor role from the respondents' point of view (6%). These are the results of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021, for which the Leibniz Institute for Media Research in Hamburg conducted the German part of the study. The study is based on 92,372 respondents from 46 countries on six continents.

18- To 24-Year-Olds Most Concerned about False Reports

 Regardless of the topic, 37 per cent of adult internet users in Germany express concerns about not being able to distinguish possible false reports on the internet from facts. 23 per cent do not express such concerns and 41 per cent are undecided. Overall, these figures are similar to those of the previous years 2020 and 2019. However, fluctuations in the group of 18- to 24-year-olds are striking. Compared to older respondents, they always tended to show higher convictions in being able to distinguish false reports from facts. In 2021, however, almost one in two of them (45%) expressed concerns about false news – the largest proportion among the interviewed age groups (2020: 28%, 2019: 39%).

Trust in News Increased

Trust in the news media increased during the Corona crisis. This result of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report is in line with findings already shown by the Mainzer Langzeitstudie Medienvertrauen [Mainz Long-Term Study Media Trust]. Overall, 53% of adult online users in Germany say they trust the news in general – eight per centage points more than in the previous year 2020. Trust has grown most strongly in the youngest age group of 18 to 24-year-olds (2021: 48%; 2020: 31%). The news they actually use is trusted by 62% of all respondents (2020: 59%). Just under one in two continues to express little trust in news in social media. Trust in individual news brands also remains at the same level in 2021. As in previous years, the main news of the public broadcasters are the offerings with the highest trust values among respondents who are familiar with the brands, followed by the news of regional or local daily newspapers.

News Interest Remains Stable at a High Level

News interest and news usage frequency remain stable at a high level. 92 per cent of adult internet users in Germany read, listen to or watch news at least several times a week in January 2021 (2020: 94%), and 67 per cent say they are very or extremely interested in news (2020: 71%).

In addition, around half of adult onliners are extremely or very interested in politics (2020: 52%). Among 18- to 24-year-olds, interest in politics has risen by seven per centage points to 42 per cent compared to the previous year 2020.

Increasing Importance of Television as a News Source, Especially among Younger People

For 44 per cent of adult internet users in Germany, television is the most important source of news to inform themselves about current world events (2020: 42%). A growing importance of television is emerging in all age groups, but most clearly among young adults. The share of those who consider television their most important news source rises by +5 percentage points to 22 per cent among 18 to 24 year-olds and by +7 percentage points to 28 per cent among 25- to 34-year-olds. The share of 18- to 24-year-olds who use linear television as their only news source has also increased this year by three percentage points to eight per cent.

At least once a week, the majority of adult internet users (69%) follow news on linear TV (2020: 70%). Among 18- to 24-year-olds, this share is 46%, an increase of four percentage points.

In comparison, news in newspapers and magazines (26%) and on the radio (40%) reach fewer adult online users in 2021 than in the previous year. A lower reach in these genres can be observed in all age groups. This is probably also related to the pandemic-related changes in everyday working life and the fact that commuting to work is no longer necessary, which is often associated with listening to the radio in the car or buying a newspaper for commuting.

Declining Reach of News in Social Media

69 per cent of onliners say they regularly use news on the internet in 2021 (2020: 70 %). 40 per cent of respondents describe the internet as their most important news resource, two per centage points more than in the previous year. For 70 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds, the internet is the most important way to get the latest news. 46 per cent of the youngest age group get news exclusively on the internet. This share has increased by nine percentage points compared to the previous year 2020 (2020: 37%, 2019: 31%).

Of the many news sources on the internet, most people are most likely to be exposed to news via social media (31%). This is especially true for 18- to 24 –year-olds, half of whom (52%) regularly watch, read or listen to news on social media. However, news on social media in 2021 is experiencing declining reach in all age groups compared to previous years. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, the share has fallen by four percentage points. The biggest drop, -11 percentage points, is among 25- to 34-year-olds, who now account for 42 per cent.
Similar trends emerge for the use of social media as the main source of news. For ten per cent of the respondents, social media are the most important news resource on the internet (2020: 11%). Among 18- to 24-year-olds, this applies to one in four; in the previous year, it was still 30 per cent. A decline of -4 percentage points to 16 per cent can also be observed among 25- to 34-year-olds. The use of social media as the sole source of news is comparatively stable: only four per cent of adult internet users receive news solely via such platforms (2020: 4%). Among 18- to 24-year-old internet users, this share is twice as large at eight per cent (2020: 9%).

The proportion of adult internet users who go online for news from broadcasters, on the other hand, has risen slightly, from 23% to 27%. Increases can be observed in all age groups. Seven per cent of internet users name TV and radio news as their most important source of news; this is two percentage points more than in the previous year 2020. In the group of 18-to 24-year-olds, the increase is four percentage points to 15 per cent. This means that online offerings from broadcasters take second place after social media among the most important online news sources of young adults under 25.

Multiple Reasons for News Use in Social Media

WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook are the social media that are most widespread among adult internet users in Germany and, accordingly, the platforms on which proportionately the most users are exposed to news content. In 2021, 18 per cent regularly see news on Facebook (2020: 22%), 17 per cent on WhatsApp (2020: 16%) and 16 per cent on YouTube (2020: 14%). In the youngest age group of 18- to 24-year-olds, Instagram is the most popular news source among all social media – a quarter regularly see news content there (2020: 20%).

The main reasons for news-related use of social media differ significantly depending on the platform considered. For Facebook, the most frequently cited answer (31%) is to see news mainly while being there for other reasons. News on Instagram is mainly used for entertainment and as a way to pass the time (23%). Twitter users like the discussions and comments on news the most (24%) and one-fifth (20%) of YouTube users consider the videos distributed there as a good source for the latest news or appreciate that views are presented there that are usually not shown in the media.
The most followed news source on social media are mainstream news media or journalists. On Facebook and Instagram, many users also pay attention to the news content of ordinary citizens. On Twitter, this applies to politicians and activists and on YouTube to alternative news sources. Due to the small absolute number of cases, however, these results on news use in social media should be interpreted with caution.

Different Expectations of News Coverage among 18- to 24-Year-Olds

Two-thirds (77%) of adult online users in Germany expect news media to report neutrally, reflecting a range of different opinions and leaving people to make up their own minds. In the youngest age group of 18- to 24-year-olds, however, different expectations can be observed to some extent. While the majority (76%) in this age group also expect that bias in news coverage will be refrained from. However, compared to older people, onliners aged 18 to 24 are significantly more likely to think that there are topics on which it makes no sense to remain neutral (34%) and that news media should give less space to positions that have weaker arguments in their own estimation (28%).

Younger People Are More Dissatisfied with News Coverage on Their Own Age Group

Most adult internet users in Germany consider the amount of news coverage on various topics to be just right. It is most likely to be perceived as insufficient with regard to “people of my age” (27%) and with regard to “one’s own place of residence” (25%). In terms of content, most respondents also feel that the reporting is adequate with regard to various topics. This applies least to the content on one’s own political views (46%) and on “one’s own social and economic class” (50%).
Of the interviewed age groups, 18-24 year olds are not only the most dissatisfied with the amount of coverage of their age group (42%), but are also the most likely to consider content about people their own age to be inadequate (37%). Significantly more people (57%) who tend to place themselves on the political right spectrum consider reporting on their own political views inappropriate.

Online News Usage via Smartphone Continues to Grow

The use of smartphones as devices for internet use in general and for news use in particular continues to grow in 2021. 61% of the interviewed internet users aged 18 and older also use their smartphones to read, watch or listen to news on the internet (2020: 58%), half of them use a laptop or PC for this purpose as in the previous year (2020: 49%).

In 2021, the smartphone as a device for online news has also reached the same level as the laptop or PC for the first time among the over 55-year-olds: 54% each of this age group regularly use these two types of device to access news on the internet. Among adult online users in general, the smartphone now clearly dominates as the most important device for accessing online news (51%) compared to computers (30%), tablets (9%) and TVs connected to the internet (8%).

Podcast Use Stagnates

The user base of podcasts is no longer growing as fast as in previous years. A quarter of adult online users in Germany (25%) listened to at least one podcast per month in 2021. This compares to 24 per cent last year in 2020 and 21 per cent in 2019. The most frequently cited reasons for not using podcasts are a lack of desire to have to listen to these offerings via smartphone or headphones (21%), a perceived low added value compared to other offerings (21%) and a lack of time (20%).

Poor Willingness to Pay for Online News and Little Knowledge about the Financial Situation of the News Media in Germany

The proportion of adult onliners in Germany who have spent money on news offerings online remains stable at a low level in 2021. Nine per cent of respondents say they have paid for online news within the past year (2020: 10%). Eleven per cent of adult onliners can imagine spending money on online news in the future. At 19 per cent, the share is highest among 18- to 24-year-olds.

The reluctance to pay for news content on the internet is somewhat at odds with the finding that about half (49%) of online users in Germany feel that the news media are in a difficult financial situation. However, 39 per cent do not know how to describe the financial situation of commercial news providers most accurately, and 20 per cent think that most providers are making more profit than they were ten years ago. Half of the respondents reject financial support for publishers from the government.

Corona Dominates the Use of Local News as Well

The topic that people have also engaged with at the local level in 2021 is the COVID-19 pandemic. 59 per cent of online adults have engaged with information on the coronavirus and other health-related local news. This is true for all age groups. The local news source that can provide the best information from the perspective of those interested in the topic is the online and offline offerings of regional newspapers (32%). The information provided by regional television stations is considered best by 17%. Among the 18- to 24-year-olds in particular, large proportions also consider search engines (15%) and other websites (16%) to be the best sources of regional information on corona, while local radio is preferred by 15% of the over 55-year-olds.

Information on the Study

Since 2012, the Reuters Institute Digital News Survey has annually examined general trends and national characteristics of news usage via representative surveys in 46 countries by now. What types of news are of interest? What devices and ways are used to find them? Which providers are trusted? What viewpoints do people hold regarding the financing of journalism?

Coordinated by the Oxford-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in the UK, the 2021 study was implemented simultaneously in the following countries: Argentina[1], Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil[1], Bulgaria, Canada, Chile[1], Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece[1], Hong Kong, Hungary, India[1], Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya[1], Malaysia[1], Mexico [1], the Netherlands, Nigeria[1], Norway, Peru, Philippines[1,] Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa[1], South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey[1], United Kingdom and the United States. About 2,000 people were interviewed in each country in 2021. In total, the study in its tenth edition is based on 92,372 respondents from 46 countries on six continents. The fieldwork in Germany was conducted between 14 January and 5 February 2021 by the survey institute YouGov.

The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut has been responsible for the German part of the study as a cooperation partner since 2013. The state media authorities and the Second German Television (ZDF) supported the survey in 2021.

The full report with all international findings will be presented to the public in London on 23 June 2021. The report on the German findings is available on the HBI website at https:leibniz-hbi.de/uploads/media/Publikationen/cms/media/v9drj2w_AP58_RDNR21_Deutschland.pdf (in German).

Further information on the study can be found here: http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/ (English) and on the HBI project page www.leibniz-hbi.de/en.

Information on the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The Institute was founded in 2006 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. The Institute is an internationally active research centre for comparative journalism that takes a global perspective in its research and provides a forum for researchers from a wide range of disciplines to meet with journalists from around the world. More at http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/.

Information on the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)

The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut researches media change and the associated structural changes in public communication. Cross-media, interdisciplinary and independent, it combines basic science and transfer research and thus creates problem-relevant knowledge for politics, business and civil society. More at www.leibniz-hbi.de/en.


Dr. Sascha Hölig, s.hoelig@leibniz-hbi.de