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JMG's researcher about the Corona virus

Crisis communication is one of the principal research fields at JMG. Now the researchers are following the media and reporting on the corona virus.

For almost three decades, JMG researchers have studied the actions and communication of authorities, media, and citizens in connection with social crises. For example, they have followed the news reporting in connection with the bird flu, swine flu and the Ebola epidemic.

The crisis communication research at JMG has emphasized the perspective of citizens and society, drawing on theories of democracy, power, culture, technological development, technological adaptation, social norms, and institutions.

Here we collect articles on JMG's research about the corona virus for those who want to know more.

New study showing previous stabile confidence in institutions among Swedes (2020-04-08)

The corona crisis has brought up to date the question of confidence in institutions among the Swedes. Until now the confidence has been high and stabile, with a few dramatic exceptions.

This is the result of a new study that Tim Segerberg, master student in political science, has done for the JMG research project Crisis Communication and Social Trust in a Multi-Public Society (KRISAMS) at University of Gothenburg.

Portrait of Tim Segerberg

Swedes have for a long time characterized as having a high confidence in insitutions. The fact that politicians and authorities even during the corona crisis trust the citizens will and ability to understand and follow recommendations, rather than enforcing restrictions, is something that has attracted worldwide attention.

How the Swedish confidence in institutions and trust in each other will be affected by the ongoing pandemic is yet unknown.

– But previous crises do not seem to have affected the trust in institutions. Quite contrary it has been stabile during the 13 major national crises that we have studied during the past 30 years, says Tim Segerberg.

13 crises since 1986

He has analyzed the Swedish confidence in institutions since 1986, when this was first measured by the SOM-institute in their annual surveys, and until 2017. During these years the following crises occurred:

  • The refugee crisis 1989
  • The financial crisis 1990-1994
  • The Estonia disaster 1994
  • The Gothenburg discothèque fire 1998
  • The murder of Anna Lindh 2003
  • The tsunami 2004
  • Gudrun the hurricane 2005
  • The financial crisis 2008-2009
  • The swine flu 2009-2010
  • The bombings in Stockholm 2010
  • The forest fire in Västmanland 2014
  • The refugee crisis 2015-2016
  • The terror act in Stockholm 2017

Resilient confidence

– Thanks to the studies conducted by the SOM-institute, that build on many participants, we have a unique source of information about the confidence among the public and how this has changed during crises, says Tim Segerberg.

Also it shows that Swedes in general have a resilient confidence in institutions.

– Most crises seem to have had quite a small effect, despite many of them being severe threats against society. There are exceptions though – the two financial crises.

During the financial crise during the 1990s the confidence in the banks literally fell apart within all sections of society – something that the banks never really managed to restore.

– Even though the loss was not quite as big during the next financial crisis, there was a loss of confidence in the banks then as well. On the other hand the confidence in the politicians increased, probably due to an ability to convey a unanimous image in the media of how the crisis should be handled.

Additional studies are needed

During the refugee crisis 2015 the public confidence decreased, but mostly for the political institutions and the police plus to some degree for radio/TV.

Other crises that to some extent affected the confidence were among other the discothèque fire, the swine flu and the terror act 2017.

– Our results imply so far that they haven´t had any long-term decisive significance for the public confidence, but additional studies are needed.

The public confidence in institutions is central in crises. This goes for both the importance in getting information about what happens during tha crise, how it is handled and what consequences that kan arise afterwards.

– If the citizens don´t trust the information, the whole crisis management is much more difficult: Also if the public trust is destroyed by the crisis communication from the institutions it can be diffcult to move on afterwards.

The corona crisis is being studied now

Right now Bengt Johansson, professor at JMG, and the research team at KRISAMS are studying how the public confidence is being affected by the corona crisis.

A survey has been sent out to about 20 000 people by the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the SOM-institute. The results will be published during the spring.

Read the report (in Swedish)

Det motståndskraftiga förtroendet – kriser och institutionellt förtroende i Sverige 1986-2017 av Tim Segerberg (JMG 2020).

For more information, contact:

Tim Segerberg, masterstudent in political science, phone: 0730-94 56 69, e-mail: tim.segerberg@gmail.com

Bengt Johansson, professor at JMG, phone: 0702-21 24 02, e-mail: bengt.johansson@jmg.gu.se

Read further:

To be fast and accurate - a dilemma for journalists during crises (2020-03-30)

When the crisis strikes journalists struggle with being both quick and correct. Often news are being published with wordings like ”according to unconfirmed (or uncertain) information”.

The researchers Jacob Sohlberg and Bengt Johansson at University of Gothenburg have investigated if the public understand these so called journalistic disclaimers.

The pandemic caused by the new corona virus shows clearly that news are hard currency in a crisis. The need of information is almost infinite, and communication officers and journalists work intensely with producing and sending out information. But, speed and truth are not always the same thing.

Research about Crisis Communication at JMG

At JMG the research project KRISAMS (Crisis Communication and Social Trust in a Multi-Public Society) funded by the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency have been conducting research since 2017.

A brand new study has been published where researchers investigate how journalists use different expressions to signal that news are not quite yet reliable and confirmed by the authorities.

Fast and accurate

Portrait Bengt Johansson– In crises rumours and half-truths are spread and information is difficult to verify, at least quickly. Speed is vital and it is easy to critizise that facts that are not properly verified are spread, on the other hand the criticism would be hard on journalists and communication officers if they withheld information that could have saved lives.
The dilemma to be both fast and correct is central in crisis communication, explains Bengt Johansson, professor at JMG.

Does the public understand?

The journalists often use the expressions ”uncertain” or ”unconfirmed” information. They understand the meaning of these notions but do common news consumers comprehend? Maybe the public need additional information about what these journalistic disclaimers mean to be able to actually assess what it means when it comes to how reliable the news actually are?

The terrorrist attack in Stockholm

In connection with the terrorist attack in Stockholm 2017 the scientists made an experiment to test if people grasp the journalistic disclaimers.
It turned out that the public has difficulties in seeing them, especially in a stressful situation. The results are published in the book ”Allt tyder på ett terrordåd” – Stockholmsattentatet i medier och opinion (Institutet för Mediestudier, 2018) and in the article Did it really happen? How the Public Inteprets Journalistic Disclaimers” (Journalism & Mass Communication Quaterly, 2020).

Completely new investigation

Portrait Jacob Sohlberg–  We have now made a new study in cooperation with SVT who are considering if their journalists could use other journalistic disclaimers when reporting, says Jacob Sohlberg.

In this study the researchers use an experiment with a fictional news broadcast about a knife attack at Riksbron in Stockholm. 2627 people took part of the news that were designed in different ways. The researchers wanted to investigate if it mattered which words that were used, ”unconfirmed” or ”uncertain” and also if the public´s view on how reliablie the news were was affected by if the news reporter explained what the journalistic disclaimers meant.

It seems to be working

The new study, like the previous one, shows that journaistic disclaimers seem to work. They make the news appear as less reliable, if the uncertainty is very clearly indicated. Otherwise this will be missed by the reader/viewer.

However it doesn´t seem to matter what word – unconfirmed or uncertain – the journalists use to indicate that information is not quite reliable.

Advice to journalists in an exceptional situation

– But a crisis as extensive as the corona crisis is of course exceptional, stresses Bengt Johansson. In a strained situation like this we read, hear or see the news faster and we easily miss nuances like whether the information is uncertain or unconfirmed.

His advice to journalists today is to rather avoid publishing new that need journalistic disclaimers. But if they still choose to do so it´s important to be very clear and explain that a piece of news is uncertain/unconfirmed and what that means. They can for example state as in the experiment in the new study ”the information about this suspected knife attack are still uncertain, meaning that we haven´t received the information from an official source”.

The latest study has recently been published in the report ”Uppgifterna om det misstänkta knivdådet är ännu osäkra….”. Ett experiment om användandet av journalistiska osäkerhetsmarkörer (JMG, Göteborgs universitet, 2020).

Cooperation with the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the SOM-institute

The data collection for both experiments was made by the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the SOM-institute, University of Gothenburg during autumn 2017 and spring 2019. https://som.gu.se/


Further reading


JMG's media researchers are investigating corona virus reporting (2020-03-25)

The researchers at the department of Journalism, media and communication (JMG) have been commissioned to follow the news reporting on the new corona virus (Covid-19).

Portrait of Marina Ghersetti– This gives us unique possibilities to compare with the knowledge that we have already acquired in previous studies, says docent Marina Ghersetti, member of the research team on crisis communication – one of the key areas of research for the department at the University of Gothenburg.

– We follow and analyze the media reporting and compare it with the public view, both considering the new corona virus and previous outbreaks of infectious diseases.

At JMG there is much knowledge around news coverage at other outbreaks of biological and medical threats, for example the outbreak of diphtheria in Gothenburg in the 80s, the bird- and swine flu and Ebola.

– Our previous research shows that media often enlarge what is dramatic and sensational. That can give a picture of a situation more dangerous than it actually is, but when it comes to the new corona virus we still know so little about the risks so saying anything about how alarmist the media reporting has been is still very difficult, says Marina Ghersetti.

Thanks to the collaboration with the SOM-institute and its Citizen panel (LORE) the researchers have had the opportunity to already send out and conduct extensive surveys among the public.

Survey to 18 000

– The first survey to among 18 000 people was sent out in February and we are planning new surveys in March and May, explains Marina Ghersetti. At the same time we gather and analyze what is reported in the media.

Among other things the researchers want to examine what characterizes the picture in the media of the new corona virus:

  • How much attention has the corona virus drawn in Swedish news media?
  • Who have their say and on what conditions in the news reporting, and what aspects of the disease does it. Mainly cover?
  • What is the picture of the authorities´ preparedness and of the measures taken?
  • To what extent is the reporting alarmist or calming?
  • What image has the public formed of the corona virus?
  • To what extent has the media reporting on the corona virus been noticed på the public?
  • What confidence does the public have in the preparedness and ability for responsible authorities to deal with an outbreak of the infection in Sweden?
  • In what news media, social media and web sites does the public search for information about the corona virus?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the media reporting of the corona virus and the reporting of previous infectious disease outbreaks?


– Our study will be completed this fall and naturally we hope that authorities, politicians, journalists and others who work with crisis communication will find the results useful, says Marina Ghersetti.

Read more

About JMG´s research on the corona virus and crisis communication – https://jmg.gu.se/english/current/corona_research

Previous research:

The rumor spread about the Corona virus can have devastating consequences (2020-03-23)

Media researcher Professor Orla Vigsø at JMG explains why it is so important that the authorities communicate the same.

The word infodemic was used by the WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Munich Security Conference on 15 february 2020, and since then it has been used numerous times to point to the dangers of disinformation.

Information about how to do the right thing

Disinformation has been on the agenda for some years now in connection with election campaigns and the Cambridge Analytica case, but when it comes to the corona virus, it is not just a question of “lies”,
something that WHO takes very seriously:

“What is at stake during an outbreak is making sure people will do the right thing to control the disease or to mitigate its impact. So it is not only information to make sure people are informed; it is also making sure people are informed to act appropriately”, as Sylvie Briand, director of Infectious Hazards Management at WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme and architect of WHO’s strategy to counter the infodemic risk, put it in an interview with The Lancet.

Disinformation in connection with a pandemics can have devastating consequences, not just to the individuals but to society as a whole, if people do things that might spread the disease instead of limiting it, and e.g. not seek medical attention when it is needed.

Disinformation in social media

For some years now, The Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) has been focusing its attention towards the dangers of disinformation, but as many other aspects of society, this was accentuated by the Corona virus.

Especially in social media, disinformation is being disseminated, both about the disease, its spreading and development throughout the world, but also about how to act as a citizen.

And as the Internet is global, this information is spread across borders, which means that what may have been correct information to start with is taken in by people in a completely different context, where the same information is not applicable due to a different situation with different constraints and possibilities.

Listen to the authorities

So, what to do about this?

The advice is to always listen to the authorities, that is the official voices from involved organizations – The Public Health Agency of Sweden etc.

That is why it is paramount that these organizations communicate the same message.

Everybody knows that experts have differences of opinion within their field of work, but in order to succeed in fighting the disinformation present in media and on the Internet, the authorities need to present the citizens with arguments against this disinformation and in favour of the proper way to act.

If different voices from authorities present contradictory information and advice, the result will be that citizens cannot distinguish between the authorities and other voices. Everything just become competing voices, and people lose trust in the authorities.

And in such a case, who can you then trust?

Read further:


JMG's researcher about the Corona virus

Crisis communication

JMG in Media about Corona

Page Manager: Cajsa Malmström|Last update: 4/14/2020

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