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Social media emerging as primary source of news for COVID-19



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By Aashish Mishra

Kathmandu, May 14: A survey conducted by the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) Nepal last week among 2,014 respondents found that a whopping 92 per cent obtained their COVID-19-related information from social media, mainly Facebook. This was followed by television at 75 per cent, radio at 61 per cent and newspapers at 54 per cent.
The same organisation had conducted a similar study in April among 1,507 respondents where 84 per cent had reported radio or newspapers as their main source of information regarding COVID-19 and social media, mainly Facebook, stood at only 67 per cent.
This shows how social media grew immensely as the preferred source of information for people seeking to learn about the current coronavirus pandemic and how TV, radio and newspapers dropped from people’s choice in the span of a month.
While both these surveys included respondents from all over the country, a huge chunk of their sample populations were people from the Kathmandu Valley. So, it can be said that the rise in popularity of social media and the corresponding decline of traditional media they showed, were in large part, a reflection of Kathmandu’s media habits.
The Rising Nepal talked to a few residents of the capital to understand what was behind this information consumption pattern as observed during the lockdown.
Sanjay Bogati, 43, said that he preferred social media because of convenience. “I am working from home all day and I can’t be tuning in to TV or radio to catch the hourly bulletin,” he said, adding, “With social media, all I need to do is switch the window and get the news. I don’t need to disrupt my work to stay updated.”
Bindhya Jha, 20, echoed similar sentiments, although, for her the convenience had to do with watching Netflix shows rather than working from home. “On social media, I don’t even need to open the news. I see the headline and the caption, get the gist and go back to my shows. No hassle!” she exclaimed.
However, there are some who are being forced to turn to social media because of the restrictions the current crisis has put on traditional sources of information. Hem Maharjan, 62, is one of them. “I don’t like social media because people peddle rumours there,” he explained his current predicament. “But I have no other source to access because the newspapers have stopped coming and I can’t watch TV because the power goes off every afternoon.”
This lack of access especially seems to have affected the elderly. Maina Silwal, 66, and Ratna Shrestha, 71, are also reluctant consumers of news from social media who have turned to it only because they cannot get newspapers. “All the newspaper shops are closed and I have heard that the coronavirus can be transmitted through paper. So, I don’t read papers these days and instead go to Facebook,” Silwal said.
Shrestha also described why he uses Facebook. “My son showed me that newspapers these days upload their epapers on Facebook. So, I go online to access them,” he said. The public shift to social media seems to be driven by two factors – convenience and access.