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Finns trust traditional outlets more than social media for coronavirus news

The chief researcher said he was surprised by the strong confidence levels in both the media and authorities.

Finnish PM Sanna Marin speaks to reporters in Helsinki in this file photo taken on 4 May, 2020. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

When it comes to official coronavirus-related news and information, Finnish residents have high levels of trust in authorities, according to a survey by the University of Helsinki.

The survey found that 92 percent of respondents said they trusted researchers and doctors who disseminate information about the viral epidemic. Just over 70 percent said they thought that physicians, researchers and the National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) were the best sources of accurate information.

Confidence in news media reliability was also strong, according to the survey. Roughly 60 percent said they thought news outlets were generally reliable, with higher trust placed in traditional outlets.

Around 90 percent of respondents said the national broadcaster Yle was either fairly or very reliable. Meanwhile, trust in the reliability of commercial outlets like newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and online news channel MTV Uutiset, was just a bit lower at 76 and 74 percent respectively.

The survey's research director, Janne Matikainen, said confidence levels were higher during the coronavirus crisis than in similar surveys of previous years.

"However this does not necessarily indicate there is a general [overall] increase in confidence in the news," Matikainen said.

But despite the researcher's stipulation, the news media received relatively high ratings. About 80 percent of the respondents said they thought the media did a good job of explaining how to act during the crisis -- as well as helped them understand it.

Just over half of respondents (53%) said news outlets provided expert advice while nearly the other half (43%) said the media had exacerbated the pandemic.

20% rely on social media

The survey also looked at Finnish residents' views on the reliability of politicians as sources of information, with about 70 percent of respondents saying they consider the government to be fairly or very useful and reliable sources of information.

However, around 20 percent said opposition parties were fairly or very useful and reliable sources.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of respondents said that news outlets' websites and mobile apps were their most important sources of news, with about 20 percent saying that they consider information found on social media platforms to be important news sources.

Researcher Matikainen said he was surprised about the strong confidence levels in both the media and authorities.

"The most surprising thing is that the role of the internet and social media is so low. Compared to international studies, [respondents] feel that coronavirus-related news and official information has been successful," Matikainen said in a university statement.

The survey was part of the research project Emotions at play: The media's authority and the public's trust" (roughly translated from Tunteet pelissä: Median auktoriteetti ja yleisön luottamus) which examines levels of trust in traditional media as well as social media, comparing the results to research done a decade ago.

A final report on the project's findings is expected to be published in August.

The project was funded by the Helsingin Sanomat foundation. The survey was carried out by polling firm Taloustutkimus, querying 1,354 people between the ages of 18-79 during 11-18 May 2020.

The margin of error ranged between 0.8-2.9%, depending on the survey's results, according to the research team.