TURKISH STUDIES, vol.17, no.1, pp.79-100, 2022 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)
The 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a global health crisis that profoundly impacts how we perceive our world and daily lives. The mass media plays a significant role in shaping the public’s perception of the risks, influencing the public’s level of participation in preventive measures. False information should never be shared, but sharing disinformation during a pandemic is especially egregious as it can impede efforts to prevent the disease from spreading. Non-experts in the media should not be making and publicizing false statements. This study designed a COVID-19-specific tool to examine the role of the mass media in disseminating accurate health communication and stopping the flow of misinformation, especially as this relates to the sustainable adoption of preventive measures to curtail the pandemic in Turkey. The outcomes will guide policymakers toward a more effective correct management of human behavior in current and future epidemics. In the study, data were collected with a questionnaire prepared through online Google forms, using the snowball sampling method, in line with the ethics committee decision of Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University dated 29/07/2020-2020/07 between 4-9 April 2021. The survey combined the “Perception of Health News Scale,” which was developed by Çınar (2018) and modified to be specific to the COVID-19 pandemic to create the “Perception of COVID-19 News Scale,” and a bespoke scale for the current study to measure personal avoidance behaviors in the pandemic: the “COVID-19 Avoidance Behavior Scale.” The collected data were analyzed using IBM’s SPSS 25.0 software. The “Perception of COVID-19 News Scale” focused on four dimensions of mass media health coverage during the pandemic: accuracy, comprehensibility, significance, and interestingness. The scale was valid and reliable (Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin 0.921; variance 58.065%; total score average 3.715 ± 0.64). The “COVID-19 Avoidance Behavior Scale” focused on personal avoidance behavior and preventive behavior. The scale was also valid and reliable (KMO .0804; variance 63.251%; total score average 3.919 ± 0.71). The mass media health coverage of the pandemic could explain 59.9% of the participants’ change in avoidance behavior. A regression analysis using the stepwise method among the variables showed that the mass media’s COVID-19 coverage that the participants considered truthful and significant had the most considerable effect on their precautionary behavior. In addition, news they perceived as understandable, compelling, and engaging had a substantial and positive impact on their avoidance behavior.The results suggest that pandemic-specific health training provided to the public through mass media could contribute to more effective early case detection and positively change precautionary and personal avoidance behaviors leading to more positive biological and psychological consequences.