RESEARCH • Using Media to Survive COVID-19


Media as Problem & Solution for Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic

This colorized scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects), the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. credit • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

ICMPA and over a dozen other universities in the United States and Canada, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia led a global study of undergraduate and graduate students to determine how they used media during the first six months of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The study investigated how students navigated the COVID pandemic in their countries — many, but not all, under some level of quarantine or lockdown.  In addition, the survey tracked how students used media across platforms, as providers of news and information, as educational tools, as sources of entertainment, as means of communication with friends and family, and as ways to create and engage with their self-defined communities. 

This COVID-19 study helps researchers and educators discover how students around the world have responded to the pandemic which has interrupted their education, their social lives and their futures. 

Researchers have learned that media ARE part of the solution to the challenges specifically faced by young people… but media are also very often part of the problem.”
               – Prof. Susan D. Moeller, ICMPA director and co-PI of study

Click to open ICMPA’s poster showcasing comments collected from students around the world — represented are reactions of students from 16 out of the 40 countries represented by individuals who took the survey.

The “Media, Life & Community during the COVID-19 Pandemic” study offers unprecedented insights into how a global cohort of university students use communications technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic and how they self-reported socio-behavioral, psychological and economic effects of the crisis.

See the TOP 8 HIGHLIGHTS of the study below

Many countries and communities have levied different directives related to COVID-19, in particular regarding physical or social distancing. There are also distinctions in the type and quantity of media accessed and available. The “COVID-19 Pandemic” survey captured data to understand media-use, daily routines, and the creation of community in countries around the world. The particular problems addressed in the research include those of media use over time — including types and kinds of news and entertainment consumed, and the adjustment of daily routines — including education, work, hobbies, and socializing.

“Anecdotally we’ve heard that college students around the world have turned to mainstream and social media to track information about the pandemic, but what this study makes evident, is that even more importantly, students are reaching out to social media — especially visual media — to seek companionship and to build community in ways otherwise unavailable to them while they are isolated and ‘sheltering-at-home.’
               – Susan Moeller

The SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 • Transmission electron microscope image of virus isolated from a U.S. patient • Credit NIAID-RML

The COVID survey was launched to provide the University of Maryland, College Park, and global researchers insight into the daily lives/routines of university students during the pandemic.

The COVID survey’s insights will enlighten researchers’ understanding of the degree to which media technologies are used to seek information and build community in times of global crisis.  Students are increasingly inseparable from the media they consume… and produce.  As an Argentinian student wrote in response to a question in this survey:  “I’m living for media. I’m like a photo — or a square in Zoom.”

The survey captured in rich qualitative and deep quantitative data students’ reactions to the crisis, providing insights into students’ use of media for news and information, community building, and socializing,  as well as insights into their emotional well-being.

This website reports some of the highlights of the study.  Multiple academic papers are anticipated, especially to capture distinctions within and across specific geographies covered by the survey, and to track how specific concerns such as gender, social media, digital sharing of information, community engagement, have been affected by the pandemic and the attendant other global, regional and national crises.


1.  Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety — Students around the world wrote that their anxiety could be literally incapacitating 

Student after student wrote of being flattened by their anxieties —  into an inertia that left them able to do little more than stare at their screens.
    • As an American grad student observed: “When I stand back and think of the global pandemic I panic. Initially, it was so overwhelming that I struggled to function.
    • A student from Argentina said: “The pressure of doing things is intense, I feel guilty most of the times when I decide to just lay in the couch and do nothing.
    • Noted one student at university outside of Washington, DC:  “The only tasks I hoped to accomplish was passing all of my classes, exercising consistently, and indulging in more self-care. I think I successfully completed 1 of the 3.” 
    • And a male grad student in Australia wrote: “I intended to do a skin care routine every night but most days I’m lucky if I even brush my teeth.”
Students reported how thoroughly social distancing had become part of their mindsets — and how breaking that isolation could trigger anxieties.
    • “While I initially was excited to leave my house and go to the grocery store, I’ve noticed that I get more nervous when being in close proximity to a lot of other people in grocery stores. However, this has subsided more now that I and most everyone else wears face masks,” said one US student.
    • “I get a bit of anxiety, especially when I see a lot of people walking outside,” wrote another.   “This anxiety towards groups has gotten much bigger as time has gone on; if I look through my videos or pictures from when I was at school and at the packed basketball games, I start getting anxiety too because I can’t even fathom how exactly so many people could be together in a closed space at once.
    • “I have been anxious and fearful. Running simple errands have become an ordeal, just going into a grocery store evokes a physical reaction to the stress and fear of getting sick,” reported a student in Canada.
    • Wrote a third: “The only people I see in real life is my two house mates. I am really grateful for them but also sick of them. One time I waited out in the yard so I could wave to the mail carrier just to have social interaction.
Students also reported they couldn’t stop doomscrolling about COVID and other crises — a habit which only made them more anxious. 
    • “I’m anxious all the time,” agreed a student in the UK. “My screen time is prolly 10 hours per day.”  
    • A student who had just graduated from university in Kenya wrote:  “I can’t seem to get my hands off social media just to see what people are saying or doing with regards to Covid 19.” 
    • A student in Vancouver told about the arc of their day:  “Wake up, doomscroll, read about how many deaths/cases there are, feel a sense of gloom, eat elaborate breakfasts, hop on work calls … doomscroll, feel more anxious, talk to family across four continents via video call, watch TV, do a P90X workout, eat a less elaborate dinner, go for an evening stroll… feel a sense of numbness, go to bed.”


2. Students reported dramatic ups and downs with their mental health — that many attributed to stress and spending too much time online 

Some students reported that they had (finally) found a pattern to their days that was sustainable, but more reported ping-ponging between feeling happy (enough) and feeling trapped, claustrophobic, and hair-trigger intolerant .
    • Wrote one public health student in Maryland:  “My emotions have ranged over this quarantine period. Some days I’ve felt sad and empty, like I just lost months of plans. Other days I feel content and happy just to feel the sunshine. Sometimes I feel trapped and confined physically and emotionally. Other days I just feel accepting of what’s going on.”
    • Noted an Argentinian student:  “Sometimes I’m in a really good mood and I cook and dance and sing. But other days I cannot tolerate anyone in my house and I just complain and shout. Luckily that does not last the whole day cause my family know how to make me laugh and help me get myself together.
    • And a second student from Argentina observed: “I’ve some moments where I feel trapped in my own house, like claustrophobia, also sometimes I feel down for no reason at all, but some others I feel very productive.
Others noted a relationship between their excessive use of social media and their stress and depression, resulting in poor sleep hygiene, crying at random moments, and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
    • A student in Canada observed:  “I think my increased social media usage has had a negative impact on my health; I’ve been recently getting a lot of tension headaches since it feels like I am on my phone or laptop 24/7. The day winds down around 10pm for me and I go to bed around 3am. I definitely noticed a big shift in my sleeping schedule from quarantine.”
    • A student from Bangladesh outlined his sleep habits:  “The time I sleep is a problem. It is since the quarantine began. I have a hard time falling asleep before 2:00am. Some days I get to sleep at that time, others I fall asleep at 3:00am, others at 4:00, varies a lot and that bothers me and disorganizes me. Besides, not having a fixed bedtime is hard for me to get up. Even if I go to bed at 2:00, as early as I can, it’s hard for me to get up at 10:00, even if it’s 8 hours of sleep. I am very frustrated not being able to create a routine with fixed schedules regarding sleep. This makes me feel sad, disappointed in myself, frustrated. It is as if at night I feel that I need to clear myself, I need something that makes me laugh and has nothing to do with my responsibilities, then I try to lengthen those moments and this is how I go to bed late…”
So many stories that the students told or metaphors they used held a hint of tragedy.
    • One student from Bournemouth told the sad story of her socially-distanced birthday:  “I turned 20 in isolation in the last week of March. I woke up and had a visit from my mum and sisters (from the end of the driveway) whilst I stood at the front door and they sang happy birthday to me. They left a cake and presents on the doorstep for me….I was particularly upset when my mum and sisters had to leave and I couldn’t even hug them…”
    • Others wrote that they felt their lives were just a pale reflection of what they could be and should have been:  “I get frustrated and angry,” one American journalism student blurted.  “It doesn’t feel like I’m living right now. My anxiety and depression have definitely increased.”
    • Similarly, a student in Argentina wrote:  “I feel like I’m not living my life, like I’m trapped and not creating new memories or experiences.”
    • And those words mirrored the sentiments of a grad student in Nairobi, “All of a sudden, my world looks and has become so small,” sadly observed a Masters’ student.
    • “It feels like everything is dying,” wrote a student at university in Vancouver.


3.  Students reported they were fearful and deeply, deeply worried. 

They wrote they were fearful about the pandemic — the existence of quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing in countries around the world brought the threat of COVID home, both for those who didn’t (yet) know anyone personally with COVID… and for those who did.
    • As a student from Benin wrote, he had to leave his one friend in the park “before 6 o clock that is the limit hour, that means: lock up in your home.”
    • Said a UK student: “In these unprecedented times, University work seems silly when friends and family are sick and people around the world and in your town are dying.  As a journalism student I myself even avoid reading the news and detest receiving notifications about COVID-19. I avoid anything depressing about the virus on social media as it gives me anxiety from being stuck inside. I am most anxious about Coronavirus at night when I’m browsing through social media (Facebook & Instagram); everyone is talking about it and not anything positive. I struggle to sleep because of my anxiety and am currently caring for my mother who is suspected to be ill with the virus.”
    • Wrote a PhD student in the US:  “I wonder if any of my [academic] research really matters anymore and how long this crisis is going to last. Overall, I spent about five hours on social media — most of it just scrolling and playing Words with Friends — but sneaking looks at grim headlines and Googling symptoms. I hate reading the personal stories of people who died, because it prompts overwhelming sadness with no time to process it or grieve before the next wave of bad news. I’m very sad and worried….” 
They wrote they were fearful about their finances.
  • The uncertain status of students’ scholarships and loans and visas, and the costs for textbooks, dorm rooms, and meal plans have put great pressures on students and their families.
    • I have become stressful and anxious about what is gonna happen about my university and scholarship,” wrote one university student in Lebanon.
    • And a graduate student in the US said: “I have a lot of anxiety for my family members who are more medically vulnerable, and a TON of personal anxiety about financial issues, particularly rent.” 
  • Many students have been laid off from their campus jobs or their jobs in the restaurant, delivery or other service industries.  Others reported on the fraught situations in their homes.
    • The stress has gotten to everyone and the household is tense at times.” wrote one first-year student
    • And a second-year student at University in England wrote:  “My dad is worried his business is to go bust and my mother is trying to arrange children to go to different school as she works at the local primary school.”
They wrote they were anxious about older or ill family members and those who were essential workers.  Students reported taking on significant caretaking roles of grandparents or of young children… all while carrying a heavy course load.
    • Said one graduate student in New Zealand:  “There are times where this can be quite overwhelming and stressful – particularly trying to work, study and relax all in the same space with a full household.”
    • My day: Taking care of a 2-year-old,” similarly wrote one American PhD student.  “I am mostly successful at accomplishing house maintenance and family care related tasks. Work-related issues and tasks have been put on back burner …. Mostly on edge and irritable. Overwhelmed . Depressed on occasion. Exhausted most of the time.”
    • And a third woman student wrote:   “I have set up a FaceTime schedule with my grandfather’s nursing home so every Wednesday at 10:00am they set him up with an iPad and I can FaceTime him since I cannot visit him.”
They grieved the loss of their privacy and autonomy —  especially in situations where multiple adults were working from home with an over-burdened wifi.  Some wrote of being angry; some spoke about feeling trapped in a toxic household.
    • Students wrote about tempers spilling over: “My family and I have never gotten along and living in the same house as them makes me feel helpless, angry and depressed,” wrote a student from Argentina.
    • Way more irritable because of feeling like I’m trapped,” wrote a student in the US.  I am not able “to escape the family.”
    • And another wrote bitterly:   “I cooked dinner for me and my siblings because my parents are fighting and refuse to act like adults and have been ignoring each other since quarantine started.”


4. During Covid-19, respondents on all continents reported they took fewer breaks from technology.  

During COVID almost a quarter of the students reported they spent more than 8 hours online and 80% said they spent more than 4 hours online.  Before the pandemic only 3% spent more than 8 hours and only a third said they spent between 4-6 hours online.
    • The increase was especially dramatic for women, rising from 3% to over 23%.  The percentage of men who spent more than 8 hours also rose:  from 2% to 12%.
      • A student from Cameroon summarized her daily diet of social and digital media :  “Yesterday, I woke up at around 8:00 am, read the news and browsed through my social media pages, followed my Church service online, after which, I did some house chores, watched something on Netflix, and continued browsing social media. In the late afternoon, I created a Tiktok video then spent a good amount of time on the phone with my parents and sister, before heading out for some grocery shopping. After which, I made dinner, ate with family and went up to bed. I watched something in bed until around midnight when I fell asleep.”
      • Students recognized that so many hours online constituted a problem. One American mentioned a solution: “I often get distracted by social media. I will take what’s meant to be a short break and it turns into much longer. As of now I have deleted the apps from my phone that I find the most distracting.”
    • Even students in Taiwan, a country which has skirted most of the damages of the pandemic, reported the same trend.  Before Covid-19, no Taiwanese students reported they stayed connected all day; during Covid roughly 20% of respondents said they stayed connected all the time.
      • As a male graduate student in Taiwan admitted:  “I’m online at least 14 hours a day and keep in touch with people or friends using social media and apps. I contact more friends than before. We share more photos as this would make us less bored.”
Students also reported how thoroughly media, of all kinds, had become part of literally everything they did during the pandemic.
    • An American student admitted:  “All throughout the day I am constantly Snap Chatting, texting, calling, and FaceTiming my friends and family. I average about 2-3 FaceTime calls a day and maybe 50 Snap Chats an hour, and an inestimable number of texts.”
    • Agreed a male American engineering student: “I rode the exercise bike in my home for 50 minutes and practiced free throw shooting for about 20-30 minutes. During all of these things, I was reading tweets intermittently.” 
    • Similarly, a student in Argentina described their day, with media at every turn:  “I wake up at 9 a.m. and I have breakfast. While drinking my coffee I use my phone, check Whatsapp and Instagram mostly. I read the news on Instagram. I do some work until 1:30 pm that I have lunch. Some days I’m very productive, some days I can’t concentrate at all. When I cannot concentrate I simply stop doing what I was doing and I watch a show on the TV.  In the afternoon I normally do some more work if I have, and if not I just watch TV, do Facetime/Zoom with family and/or friends. I use my phone a lot during the day.  Around 7:30/8:00 p.m. we have dinner and then I take a shower. Normally after that I don’t keep working. And after dinner is when I normally feel sad and overwhelmed for all the situation.”


5.  Students’ interest in news grew significantly — and students reported a dramatic shift in where they got their news

Students across the globe reported that since COVID they were much more interested in the news
    • Consider these two students’ précis of much of their days:
      • An Australian:  “Wake up. Check ABC news app on Coronavirus updates. Check BBC and Al Jazeera for World News. Shower. Have breakfast and talk about COVID and plans for the day with family. Do uni work. Check ABC for COVID updates around 2pm. Watch Netflix (something I enjoy). Do some yoga/exercise. Watch News with dinner and family. Check news app. Go to bed.”
      • A US student in Illinois:  “My previous podcast habits were mainly comedy and drama, but I have been listening to a lot of news and medical podcasts lately. 12:00-12:30 eat lunch while watching (what I deem) relevant news clips on YouTube. 12:30-4:00pm housework/thesis work. With a podcast in the background. Prep for dinner…. ALWAYS pause everything at 5:30 and 6:00 to watch local and world news with the family. This is a new development for us. After dinner I retreat to my room. Netflix is on and I surf Pinterest and Instagram. I do not have a Facebook, but friends and family have been sending an increasingly number of links to Facebook articles for me.
Prior to the pandemic, students reported that the two top ways that they got their news were via social media (80%) & family and friends (59%)
    • Students’ other top sources were: Twitter (53%), news aggregators, e.g. Google News (41%), and then national news (39%) and local news (36%), followed by print news outlets (papers and magazines— 23%)
      • As one student in Buenos Aires noted:  “Most of my spare time that I am on social media, I am either on Instagram or Twitter…. From Twitter I get the information I need to know of the pandemic.”
After the COVID outbreak, social media remained the most significant news source, although the percentage of people who said they received their news via social media dropped 5%.
    • 75% of respondents said they got news from Facebook and other social media platforms during COVID.  60% said friends and family supplied their news (a virtual tie with previously), 55% looked to Twitter (again virtually similar).
BUT  61% of students reported that with the pandemic they began watching national news on TV — a rise of over 20% since before the pandemic (39%)
    • And 51% reported they had begun watching local news TV stations, for a rise of almost 15% since the start of COVID (36%).
      • Anecdotally, a partial cause for that rise can be attributed to many younger students returning to their parents’ homes, where their parents are in the habit of watching morning and evening news shows over meals.  As one student confirmed:  “Occasionally, I watch the morning news for 30 minutes. I don’t particularly enjoy television news, but my family enjoys watching it, and my mother in particular likes to be informed about COVID-19 updates from the Today Show… [and from] the evening news during dinner.”
    • That increase in attention to national and local TV news broadly tracked across individual countries and roughly tracked across all gender identities.
    • Similarly, both women and men saw comparable rises in attention to national news.  However, women reported greater interest in watching local media.  Women also continued to rely more on friends and family for news (67%) than did men (45%).


6.  Students reported that since COVID they have had a love-hate relationship with media  

It’s complicated.
    • The social media outlets that have benefits, argued a UK student, are those that are live connectors to friends or those that are pure entertainment venues:  “Some media makes me feel better, some worse. I usually feel down after browsing Facebook, perhaps due, mainly to a sense of wasted time and also that feeling that what I’m doing isn’t good enough or some sort of comparing myself to others thing that goes on – I don’t like that. WhatsApp makes me feel better because I have small groups of close friends, or I communicate with individuals on a more personal level. YouTube helps me to consume more intellectually taxing content. The news, as previously mentioned, makes me feel anxious more often than not.”
    • But as a US graduate student observed, entertainment media was mostly — only — a stop-gap panacea for the students’ anxieties.  Their happy-making effects don’t last:  “While I have found some relief from anxiety by streaming entertainment shows and seeing funny videos online, the news media reports are so upsetting and depressing that I ultimately feel like it’s making the situation and my well-being much worse.”
    • As one US student summarized: “Media allows me to entertain myself, but it does not necessarily make me feel better.”
But despite all that, students believe their use of media — connecting to their friends and family — is essential for their mental well-being.
    • Students made explicit the depths of their dependence on Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime and other video-chat-enabled apps, but conceded that being physically apart, especially from significant others, was agony.  A student in the Washington, DC area observed: “The last thing I do every night is video chat with my boyfriend, who I have not seen in a while due to the pandemic and I will not be able to see him until the pandemic seriously dies down. Not knowing when that will be has been very difficult emotionally.”
    • “Social media helps me get in contact with my friends and family. That is everything for me,” said one student from Buenos Aires.
    • As one Maryland student succinctly noted:  “I spend the majority of my days on social media, desperate for human interaction.”
Roughly 55% of students reported that they were talking, texting, and sharing more with friends and family they didn’t live with — as well as those they did — than they had pre-COVID.
    • Sharing on social media was a key way students engaged with others.  Almost two-thirds of women reported they shared personal photographs, half noted they shared their own posts and updates, 40% retweeted or shared others‘ posts, and 37% shared image memes.
    • Men shared less frequently than women did.   42% of men shared image memes, 40% shared news articles, 37% shared personal posts, and 34% shared personal paragraphs.
Around the world, students shared with friends most often (80%), but well over half of daughters shared news with their mothers next most frequently (58%),
    • And daughters evidently loved their mothers more (!):  49% of men reported sharing news with a sibling or other member of their family, 40% of men reported they shared news with their fathers, and 39% shared news with their mother
    • Women reported that they shared news roughly equally with their fathers (44%) as with their other family members— sisters, brothers, grandparents  (45%).
Despite sharing social media more, students noted they had a low threshold for hyper-partisan news coverage
    • Globally, students expressed their weariness about anti-science claims, such as those about vaccines or masks, or “fake news” emerging from domestic political campaigns and issues.  As a UK student wrote about the end of their day:  “8pm – onwards – Online on Facebook/Instagram, overwhelmed by news/conspiracy theories.”
    • Or as a US PhD student observed: “The comments from the people I disagree with can be overwhelming. Usually I listen to both sides, but this situation has made that unbearable.”

7.  Some students looked on the bright side 

While a vast majority of students reported struggling to get their schoolwork done, across the world some students detailed their coping mechanisms for staying sane and/or productive
    • Some students were glass-half-full people, noting for example that working from home saved them time commuting and gave them additional bandwidth for themselves
      • Noted a woman in Argentina: “What has changed is that I have two more hours for myself because I don’t have to commute.”
      • And similarly, a man in Texas observed:  “I remain in good spirits because the only difference in yesterday from a day without COVID-19 is I would have spent a lot of time commuting in order to see my classmates and teachers in person rather than via Zoom. The rest of my time would have been spent the same way, but since I’m not commuting, I have more time to get things done.”
    • Many mentioned that they had added a daily run or walk with their dogs, as mentioned by this Maryland journalism student:  “The run helps me clear my head from any stress that I may be feeling about the virus or schoolwork.” 
    • A surprising number of students talked about revisiting their former efforts at meditation:
      • “Yesterday, I woke up feeling pretty good because I had started practicing mindfulness meditations before bed,” wrote one US grad student. “It’s an hour-long meditation that really changes the narrative in my head.”
      • Another wrote that they daily did a 30-minute meditation with their father.  “Meditation is always helpful and calming and has definitely kept me as sane as possible during the pandemic because it reminds me that doing nothing for 30 minutes is not the end of the world.”  
    • Others in Argentina, for instance, wrote that they found solace or ways to quiet their minds through online dance or exercise classes: “Dancing is my passion,” wrote one student, “so it helps me to go through all this COVID-19 situation,”  or by practicing piano, or guitar, as noted another: “The only thing I’m being productive in is with my piano, I feel it’s a great mechanism for me to cope with my emotions and disconnect a little from the screen of my computer.”
    • Still others looked back to their childhoods, as this UK-based student did:  “I find myself doing things I forgot I loved doing. Like reading a good book again and engaging with people in a board game without phones etc..”
Some students wrote of only being able to manage small adjustments — but even those mattered
    • Said one student from Beirut:  “I was hoping to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but clearly this has failed. The only successful thing that I accomplished was quality time with my family which means the world to me.”
    • Said another student in Buenos Aires, “I feel sofocated but the positive thing is that I have more time for me, to think, to relax and to grow somehow.”
    • Some noted they were taking their computers outside to work on a balcony or deck — and just hearing “the sounds of birds chirping and the leaves rustling,” as one American wrote, helped them find calm.
Finally, even those students who focused on their own struggles, at times reflected that they appreciated the “humanity” to be found on social media — which, not coincidentallyat times made them feel less lonely:
    • A student majoring in Journalism, and committed to accuracy, discovered common ground with individuals who tinker with the truth on their social media home page.:  “I used to be irritated by people using social media to project the ‘best parts’ of their lives, Now, it comforts me to see what people are up to.” 
    • A student majoring in Geographical Sciences observed:  “It gives me positivity seeing all the positive posts people are making and seeing that we aren’t alone in this whole situation.
    • A student in Lebanon majoring in Political Science & International Affairs agreed: “Using the media helps me to feel like I am not alone in this pandemic and that the whole world is suffering.

8.  6 in 10 students who took the survey reported they had been taught media literacy skills in college or secondary school 

Students today need the critical skills of media literacy — in part to make sense of the coverage of the pandemic which was wrecked by an unprecedented eruption of misinformation and disinformation, including from the US government and others.
    • As a Masters’s student in the UK noted:  “Watching/engaging with decent news sources means I know what’s going on without stressing myself out with other people’s anxieties. However social media can be very dangerous in how it spreads frustrating misinformation and exposes you to other people’s fears.”
    • And an American student mentioned:  “I specialize in health communication so I have somehow turned into the family’s go-to for Covid19 news and I HAVE to stay up to date on real information or else my family easily believes information like the 5G conspiracy and ‘plandemic.’”
Interestingly, 55% of men and 44% of women said they didn’t trust social media to be non-partisan, but 43% of women and 36% of men reported that they didn’t trust mainstream media to be accurate.
    • Students from many countries, including Taiwan, for instance, also said that they were likely to fact check when a story seemed “too good to be true.”  They had been “burned in the past,” they recalled.
60% of students taking the survey claimed they had taken a media literacy course in college or secondary school.   Yet, overall, students only rated themselves on average at 65 on a scale to 100 for how media literate they were.
    • And while 57% of students said that they fact-checked the news they consume and share by force of habit, sizeable percentages of men and women either admitted they didn’t know how to fact check (18% of women; 8% of men) or they couldn’t be bothered.
    • Of that latter group, the quarter of men (25%) and 12% of women who said they couldn’t be bothered noted that they didn’t think they needed to fact check — they believed they followed trustworthy sources.
The students who reported they fact-checked said they did so because they took a dim view of social media in general and additionally believed their friends were likely to pass on rumors or spread misinformation.
    • Students’ complaints about “fake news” and “partisan media” were not just from Americans.  Others around the world also looked at their social media, and their national and local political leaders and found them less than inspiring:  Said a Kenyan student, for instance:  “The news is swamped with political news which I hate and the fact that we’re still fed political propaganda despite the pandemic is disheartening. The combination of pandemic news and sad Kenyan politics is dangerous.”




Creative rendition of SARS-COV-2 virus particles. Note: not to scale. credit • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH.

Over 800 students with citizenship from 40 countries took part in ICMPA’s “COVID-19 Pandemic” survey.  By alphabetical order, Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya, Lebanon, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the USA had the most respondents.  Students came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South and East Asia, and Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Many students were alerted to the study via current and former faculty and university partners of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, an international program co-founded in 2007 by ICMPA and the Salzburg Global Seminar.  NAMLE also alerted professors and universities to the survey.

The university faculty who took part included, but were not limited to affiliations with the following universities in the United States:  University of Maryland, College Park, Emerson College, University of Texas, Austin, Northwestern University, Mississippi State University, and affiliations with the following global universities: the Catholic University of Argentina, Lebanese American University, Daystar University, Kenya, Mekere University, Uganda, Stellenbosch, South Africa, University of British Columbia Vancouver, University of Queensland, Australia, and multiple universities in Taiwan and Bangladesh.

73% of the students who reported their gender identity were female, 25% male, and slightly over 2% identified as trans, gender-non-conforming, or elsewhere on the spectrum.  22% of students were born in 1995 or before.  The rest wore born before 2002.  That makes most members of Gen Z.

Most respondents reported that they came from suburban or urban areas. Very few identified as living in rural areas.  Most, 54 %, identified as being middle class, 9% identified themselves as coming from families actively struggling to make ends meet or with family members unemployed, and 37% identified themselves as living in economically comfortable households where family members were working in professional or high-paying jobs.


Susan D. Moeller & Bobbie Foster Bhusari are Co-Principal Investigators of the “Media, Life & Community during the COVID-19 Pandemic” study. 

Sohana Nasrin, Weiping Li & Mahfuzul Haque are Co-Investigators of the study.

The investigators are grateful to Dean Lucy Dalglish and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park for financial support for the outreach and data analysis phases of this project.

© Susan D. Moeller, 2020


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