Despite the outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated spread of various conspiracy theories in the social media, traditional media continue to be more extensively used and are considered significantly more credible than social media in Germany. This is shown by a survey of the German resident population which was conducted by the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) and the German Economic Institute in summer 2020. However, young people under the age of 30 years tend to use social media more frequently when informing themselves about political events. This is particularly remarkable as users of social media ascribe higher credibility to social media formats as opposed to non-users which might pave the way for communicative parallel societies. This can be explained by the fact that respondents generally consider those media formats as more credible that they use themselves. The analysis also reveals that users of certain social media such as YouTube and Telegram tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Even though the analysis cannot reveal any causal relationship between the variables, it nevertheless shows that the use of certain media formats can promote a tendency towards conspiracy beliefs.
A look at the United States shows how the use of social media by (still) U.S. President Donald Trump has shaped the political debate during his term in office and the election campaign and also favored the spread fake news. Even though the credibility of traditional media in Germany is far higher when compared to the U.S., analyses indicate that fake news and the increasing spread of conspiracy beliefs are also spreading faster and more easily in Germany.
Against this background, it is all the more urgent to strengthen media competence, especially among the older population, who, unlike "digital natives", have not grown up in a digitized world. In addition, it is equally the task of school and political education, but also of journalism, to facilitate discourse and at the same time classify fake news and contain its distribution.