People “fly to quality” news on social sites when faced with uncertainty

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When information becomes a matter of life or death or is key to navigating economic uncertainty, as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears people turn to tried-and-true sources of information rather than iffy sites that have become a greater part of the social media news diet in recent years.

CSMR has published a guest blog post for NewsWhip, one of our partners for the Iffy Quotient platform health metric, detailing this “flight to quality.” This type of behavior is similar to what people exhibit with their investments when financial markets are volatile.

In late February, we noticed a drop in the Iffy Quotient—fewer of the popular URLs on both Facebook and Twitter were coming from iffy sites. We were inspired to see if there was an associated surge in sharing of articles from mainstream sources, which might be interpreted as a flight to quality in uncertain times. To do this we calculated a Mainstream Quotient, which would tell us about the fraction of popular URLs that came from mainstream news sites. (Please see our NewsWhip blog post for more details on the Mainstream Quotient's methodology.)

Ultimately, we found that during the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis (Feb. 1 - May 1, 2020) there was both a relative reduction in sharing of content from Iffy sites on Facebook and Twitter, and a relative increase in the sharing of content from mainstream news sites. Presumably, this reflects a combination of changes in user behaviors and actions taken by the platforms. (On a number of occasions Facebook and Twitter have publicly announced their efforts to combat the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, ranging from the removal of such content to the addition of warning labels and messages and, on Facebook, a “COVID-19 Information Center.”)

A fuller discussion of our findings can be found in our NewsWhip blog post. The graph showing trends in the Iffy Quotient for Facebook and Twitter, updated daily, is available at our Iffy Quotient page.

Read the full blog post written by Paul Resnick and James Park
Read the Michigan News press release