Public relying on BBC news as source of information about coronavirus, analysis shows

Throughout March 2,427 BBC news stories about coronavirus were shared 600,000 times on Facebook

News from the BBC about coronavirus has been shared significantly more on social media than articles from journalists in other organisations, new research suggests.

By the end of March stories from the BBC were shared almost three times more on Facebook than those from the organisation’s closest competitors, academics who analysed 215,952 news stories shared on social media have found.

This is despite the fact that the BBC, along with other broadcasters and broadsheet newspapers, has produced fewer news stories than online competitors such as Yahoo and the tabloid press, including The Sun and the Express.

The University of Exeter analysis shows since the outbreak of the pandemic the volume of stories mentioning coronavirus-related keywords have grown exponentially, with the biggest spike between 8–19 March. By the end of March, three quarters of the entire online news landscape in the UK contained at least some mention of the virus, up from 25 per cent at the beginning of the month.

Throughout March 2,427 BBC news stories about coronavirus were shared 600,000 times on Facebook. This compares to:

  • 5,148 Daily Mirror stories shared 248,000 times
  • 2,619 Independent stories shared 117,000 times
  • 3,209 Telegraph articles shared 92,000 times
  • 13,025 Express articles shared 70,000 times
  • 9,732 Sun articles shared 58,000 times
  • 14,199 Yahoo articles shared 100,000 times.

Dr Laszlo Horvath, part of the research team, said: “Social media sharing is an indication that the source is trusted, and by this measure the BBC is far and above the most trusted source for Covid-19 information.”

Professor Susan Banducci, also part of the research team, said: “The BBC represents an opportunity for a shared news experience by the public. ​We think the public is using the BBC’s unmatched source credibility to navigate in times of crisis. Unlike other media outlets the BBC can counteract any polarisation in news viewing experiences that is generated by social media.

“We continue to analyse our data, but it suggests the BBC it is playing a role in determining the important issues of the day for other media outlets.”

As part of the study, linked with the UK in a Changing Europe, an academic think tank on Brexit, researchers have previously analysed people’s media consumption following the EU referendum, and people they interviewed in the North East, the Midlands and South West had said they distrusted the way the BBC was covering the Brexit debate.

Dr Katharine Tyler, from the research team said: “One key theme emerging from our fieldwork across England is that the BBC was seen as a problematic source of information by both leavers and remainers. People on both sides of the Brexit debate argued that the same BBC programmes were politically biased.

“It would seem the BBC is now again a trusted source during lockdown. Social media is being used as a way during the pandemic to connect people that might not have connected before via this medium because they are now having to socially distance and isolate from each other.”

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