The effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on selective exposure: Evidence from 17 countries

Alon Zoizner, Tamir Sheafer, Laia Castro, Toril Aalberg, Ana S. Cardenal, Nicoleta Corbu, Claes de Vreese, Frank Esser, David Nicolas Hopmann, Karolina Koc-Michalska, Jörg Matthes, Christian Schemer, Sergio Splendore, James Stanyer, Agnieszka Stępińska, Václav Stetka, Jesper Strömbäck, Yannis Theocharis, Peter van Aelst

A widely believed claim is that citizens tend to selectively expose themselves to like-minded information. However, when individuals find the information useful, they are more likely to consume cross-cutting sources. While crises such as terror attacks and pandemics can enhance the utility of cross-cutting information, empirical evidence on the role of real-world external threats in selective exposure is scarce. This paper examines the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study to test the extent to which citizens were exposed to information from cross-cutting sources on traditional and social media after the outbreak. Utilizing a two-wave panel survey among 14,218 participants across 17 countries - conducted before and after the initial outbreak - we show that citizens concerned about COVID-19 were more exposed to cross-cutting information on traditional and social media. The positive relationship with cross-cutting exposure to traditional news was stronger in countries where governments adopted less stringent policy responses, and in countries with greater pandemic severity and weaker democratic institutions. Our comparative approach thus sheds light on the social and political contexts in which cross-cutting exposure can occur.

Department of Communication
External organisation(s)
University of Haifa, Technische Universität München, Hebrew University Jerusalem, Universität Zürich (UZH), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) , Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, University of Bucharest, University of Amsterdam (UvA), University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Audencia Business School, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Universitá degli Studi di Milano, Loughborough University, Adam Mickiewicz University, University of Gothenburg, University of Antwerp
Political Communication
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
508007 Communication science
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Communication, Sociology and Political Science
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