Addressing Misinformation Among Hispanic Adults: Snapshot from the KFF Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot
The KFF Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot examines U.S. adults’ use of and trust in different media sources and their exposure to and belief in a series of health-related misinformation claims, including false statements related to COVID-19 and vaccines, reproductive health, and firearm safety. The Health Misinformation Tracking Poll will work in tandem with KFF’s forthcoming Health Misinformation Monitor, a detailed report of the landscape of health misinformation messages circulating among the public, probing the impact of misinformation documented in the monitor to help inform and strengthen efforts aimed at addressing misinformation in health. Both the Misinformation Tracking Poll and the Monitor are part of a new program on health misinformation and trust being developed at KFF. This snapshot from our initial pilot poll provides a look at the survey results among Hispanic adults1 and their implications for addressing health-related misinformation among this community. Other snapshot reports provide similar insights into addressing misinformation among Black adults and among rural residents. These snapshot reports are aimed at helping organizations in the U.S. working to combat health-related misinformation and rebuild trust in the media, public health, and scientific communities.
Key Takeaways for the Field
- While large shares of Hispanic adults have heard many widely circulated falsehoods related to COVID-19, reproductive health, and guns, few are convinced that these falsehoods are true, providing an opportunity for intervention. When presented with specific items of health misinformation, few Hispanic adults (one in ten or fewer for all items except for one) say they believe them to be “definitely true,” while modest shares (between 13% and 37%) recognize each to be “definitely false.” Similar to adults overall, most Hispanic adults fall somewhere in the uncertain middle, saying each claim is “probably true” or “probably false.” While few Hispanic adults are convinced of these false and inaccurate claims, exposure to multiple pieces of health misinformation may contribute to uncertainty and doubt which could impact their health care decisions.
- Hispanic adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more inclined to believe certain false claims related to health, suggesting that efforts to address health misinformation need to be accessible to Hispanic adults with differing levels of education. This finding is consistent with the public overall, as those without a college degree are more susceptible to believing certain types of health misinformation. In addition to differences by educational attainment, partisanship plays a big role, as Republican-leaning and independent Hispanic adults are more likely to believe many health-related falsehoods than those who lean toward the Democratic party.
- Social media is an especially prominent source of health information for Hispanic adults, particularly those without a college degree and those who primarily speak Spanish. About half of Hispanic adults say they use social media at least once a week to find health information and advice, more than three times the share of White adults who say they do this. The share of Hispanic adults who use social media at least weekly for health information rises to 53% among Hispanic adults without a college degree and nearly seven in ten (69%) among Spanish speakers2. Given the large shares that seek health information and advice via social media, it may present a particularly important avenue for organizations addressing misinformation among Hispanic adults.
- Although few Hispanic adults say they would have a lot of trust in health information posted on social media, those who use social media for health advice are more open to believing health misinformation than those who don’t. While it is frequently cited as a source, few — less than one in six — Hispanic adults say they would have a lot of trust in information about health issues if they saw it on any social media platform included on the survey. However, those who rely on social media at least occasionally for health advice are more likely than those who do not seek health information on social media to have heard and believe at least one item of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation and at least one reproductive health misinformation item. Health information and advice from social media – though it may not be entirely trusted – may nonetheless plant seeds of doubt and confusion over what information is accurate and what is false.
- Though social media use is popular among large shares of Hispanic adults, traditional media viewership and readership are also high, and some sources such as local TV news and network news are far more likely to be trusted. Television is among the most commonly reported medium for news consumption among Hispanic adults across age groups with majorities reporting regularly watching local news and national network news. These traditional news sources are also more likely to be trusted with about one in four Hispanic adults saying they would have “a lot” of trust in health information they report, suggesting that they may offer an opportunity for efforts to address misinformation.
- Spanish-speaking adults are most trusting of Spanish-language news sources and are much more likely to use WhatsApp than Hispanic adults who primarily speak English. When asked to say in their own words, what is the one news source they trust the most to provide them with reliable information, more than one in four (28%) Spanish-speaking Hispanic adults name Telemundo or Univision, while fewer name various specific English-language sources. Spanish-language sources, both news and commonly used platforms such as WhatsApp, can be useful tools for addressing misinformation among Spanish-speakers, especially in light of this population’s reliance on social media for health information and advice.
- Hispanic adults are generally trusting of the CDC, FDA, and local public health officials when it comes to health recommendations, though personal doctors are by far the most trusted messengers, highlighting the importance of personal connections. More than two-thirds of Hispanic adults have at least a fair amount of trust in the CDC, the FDA, and in their state and local public health officials to make the right recommendation on health issues and a slight majority express trust in the health recommendations from the Biden Administration. However, mirroring adults overall, personal doctors are by far the most trusted among Hispanic adults, highlighting the opportunity medical professionals have in utilizing the personal connections they have with patients to reinforce accurate health information and dispel false and inaccurate claims.
Exposure to and Belief in Health Misinformation
The KFF Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot finds that, similar to adults overall, notable shares of Hispanic adults have been exposed to health-related misinformation. However, relatively few (10% or fewer on all items except for one at 17%) are convinced that the health misinformation claims included in the survey are “definitely true.” Modest shares (between 13% and 37%) fully reject these misinformation items as “definitely false.” Similar to the public overall, large shares of Hispanic adults are in a larger “muddled middle” group saying that false claims are “probably true” or “probably false.”
Between about one-third and two-thirds of Hispanic adults have heard each of the items of health misinformation included in the survey. Notably, two-thirds of Hispanic adults (67%) say they have heard the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people. Majorities say they have heard that sex education that includes information about contraception and birth control increases the likelihood that teens will be sexually active (56%), and that the COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to cause infertility (54%). Among Hispanic adults, certain groups are more likely to say they have encountered certain topics of health misinformation. For example, young Hispanic women are more likely than their older counterparts to say they have heard the false claim that using birth control like the pill or IUDs makes it harder for most women to get pregnant once they stop using them.
Regardless of whether they have heard or read specific items of misinformation, the survey also asked people whether they think each claim is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. For most of the misinformation items included in the survey, between about one-quarter and six in ten Hispanic adults say they are “definitely” or “probably true.” Combining these measures, smaller shares of Hispanic adults (between one in ten and three in ten) both have heard each claim and believe it is probably or definitely true.
Measures of Health Misinformation
This report examines three measures of health misinformation among the public. Adults were asked whether they had heard or read specific false health-related statements. Regardless of whether they have heard or read specific items of misinformation, all were asked whether they thought each claim was definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. We then combined these two measures to examine the share who have heard the false claims and believe it is definitely or probably true.
Most Hispanic adults have some doubt or uncertainty about the whether the misinformation claims tested in the survey are true or not, with majorities saying each is either “probably true” or “probably false.” On all items except one at 17%, one in ten Hispanic adults or fewer say that the false claims are “definitely true.”
The largest shares of Hispanic adults express belief in two falsities related to firearms: about six in ten (57%) Hispanic adults say that the false claim that “armed school police guards have been proved to prevent school shootings” is “definitely” or “probably true,” and half (49%) say that the false claim that “most gun homicides in the U.S. are gang-related” is “definitely” or “probably true.” Hispanic adults who say they or someone in their household is a gun owner are just as likely as those who do not live with a gun owner to say each of these gun-related falsities is “probably” or “definitely true.”
The figures below show the assessments of the verity of each of the claims by Hispanic adults by educational attainment and partisanship. Generally, Hispanic adults without a college degree are more likely than their college educated counterparts to say most of the items of misinformation examined in the survey are definitely or probably true. Consistent with patterns among the public overall, Hispanic adults who identify as Republicans or lean towards the Republican Partytand out as being more likely than Democratic-leaning Hispanic adults to say most of the misinformation items are probably or definitely true. For most of the health falsities explored in this survey, there were no significant differences among Hispanic adults by primary language or nativity (U.S.-born vs. foreign-born) in their assessments.
There are fewer notable differences across age groups when it comes to Hispanic adults’ assessments of the verity of misinformation statements related to COVID-19, though those under the age of 50 are more likely to believe some falsities related to guns. A majority of Hispanic adults under age 50 say that it is “definitely” or “probably true” that armed school police guards have been proven to prevent school shootings, compared to about half of Hispanic adults ages 50 and older. Similarly, Hispanic adults under age 50 are more likely than older Hispanic adults to say it is true that people with firearms at home are less likely to be killed by a gun than people who do not have a firearm. For both of these false statements, this difference is mostly driven by the larger share of younger adults who say the statements are “probably true.”
A majority of Hispanic women of reproductive age (ages 18 to 49) say it is probably or definitely true that using hormonal birth control makes it harder for most women to get pregnant after ceasing birth control use, while most Hispanic women ages 50 or older say it is probably or definitely false.
Most Hispanic parents are unsure about some of the misinformation items examined in the survey related to children, teens, and schools, with a majority saying it is “probably true” or “probably false” that armed school guards have been proven to prevent school shootings, that the MMR vaccines cause autism in children, and that sex education with information regarding contraception increases the likelihood that teens will be sexually active. About one in four Hispanic parents (26%) say it is “definitely false” that MMR vaccines cause autism or that comprehensive sex education increases the likelihood that teens would be sexually active (25%).
When it comes to COVID-19 and vaccines, belief in misinformation is correlated with Hispanic adults’ individual vaccination status: while nearly nine in ten Hispanic adults who indicate that none of the items of vaccine or COVID misinformation presented are true are vaccinated against COVID-19, fewer (63%) Hispanic adults who believe between 3 and 5 items of COVID misinformation say they are vaccinated against the virus.
Media Consumption and Trust
Consumption of News, Social Media, and Health Information
Television is the most commonly reported medium for news consumption among Hispanic adults across age groups with large majorities saying they regularly watch local news and national network news. For Hispanic adults under age 55, digital news aggregators that draw on multiple news sources are consumed on par with television news. Few Hispanic adults across age groups report regular consumption of conservative national news networks such as OANN or Newsmax, though about four in ten Hispanic adults under age 55 and about a third of those age 55 or older say they regularly watch Fox News.
Social media use, not surprisingly, varies by age among Hispanic adults as well. At least seven in ten Hispanic adults across age groups say they use Facebook at least once per week. A majority of Hispanic adults under age 55 also regularly use YouTube and Instagram. At least one-third of Hispanic adults across age groups use WhatsApp at least weekly, rising to 87% of Spanish-speaking Hispanic adults, likely reflecting high international use of this app. Hispanic adults under age 35 are much more likely than those 35 and older to regularly use Instagram TikTok (61%), Snapchat (52%), and Reddit (26%).
When asked to say in their own words, what is the one news source they trust the most to provide them with reliable information, regardless of the sources asked about explicitly in the survey, more than one-third (28%) of Spanish-speaking Hispanic adults say Telemundo or Univision, while fewer name various specific English-language sources. In-language sources, both news and commonly used platforms such as WhatsApp, can be useful tools for addressing misinformation among Spanish-speakers and the Hispanic community generally.
Regardless of preferred social media platform, seven in ten Hispanic adults use social media at least once a week to stay up to date on news and current events. This rises to three-fourths of Hispanic adults under age 35 and eight in ten Hispanic adults who primarily speak Spanish. Half of Hispanic adults (49%) – compared to just 15% of White adults and about a third of Black adults – use social media regularly to find health information and advice. Similar shares across age report this, but this rises to half (52%) of Hispanic adults without college degrees and seven in ten (69%) Hispanic adults who primarily speak Spanish.
Among Hispanic adults, the use of social media, even occasionally, for health information and advice is correlated with hearing and believing items of health misinformation. For example, at least half of Hispanic adults who use social media for health information and advice say that they have heard at least one of the false COVID-19 or vaccine claims tested in the survey and think it is definitely or probably true, compared to about one-third of those who don’t use social media for health advice.
Trust in Sources of Information
Doctors with personal relationships are the most trusted sources of health information for Hispanic adults, with the vast majority saying they trust their doctor “a great deal” or a “fair amount” to make the right recommendations when it comes to health issues. Notably, a large majority of Hispanic adults have at least “a fair amount” of trust in the CDC, FDA, and their local public health officials. Hispanic adults are more divided when it comes to trust in health recommendations from the Biden administration and former President Trump, with a slight majority saying they would have at least a fair amount of trust in the Biden administration to make the right health recommendations, while four in ten would have at least a fair amount of trust in former President Trump. Democratic-leaning Hispanic adults are more trusting of the current administration, while Republican-leaning Hispanic adults are more trusting of the former president’s recommendations. Overall, recommendations from government agencies are deemed trustworthy but even more likely to be trusted when presented by their personal doctors. Health recommendations from political actors are unlikely to be trusted by those of the opposing partisan persuasion.
There are a range of news sources and platforms that Hispanic adults find at least somewhat trustworthy when it comes to health information. At least half say they would trust health information at least a little if it was reported by most TV news sources including local and network news, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Nearly three in four also say they would have at least a little trust in health information reported in their local newspaper and six in ten say they would trust it if they saw it reported by the New York Times. While no source garners “a lot” of trust from a majority of Hispanic adults, at least one-quarter say they would trust health information “a lot” if it were reported by their local TV news station, national network news, or CNN.
Despite high use of social media platforms, fewer than one in six Hispanic adults say that they would have “a lot of trust” in health information if they saw it on these platforms. Two-thirds say they would trust health information at least a little if they saw it on YouTube, and about half say the same about Facebook and Instagram. Notably, WhatsApp – despite being used at least once per week by half of Hispanic adults – ranks low in terms of how much health information would be trusted on the platform, with just 8% of total Hispanic adults saying they would trust information on the platform “a lot,” rising to 12% among users of the app.
Support for this work was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of RWJF. KFF maintains full editorial control over all of its policy analysis, polling, and journalism activities.