Half of Kiwis believe in some form of Covid-related misinformation and almost 20 per cent hold at least three false beliefs, a new survey says.
The findings come in a new report from Te Mana Whakaatu, the Government's Classification Office, by examining the landscape of virus-related misinformation in Aotearoa.
Misinformation could be described as false information that was not created to hurt others - in contrast to disinformation, which was designed to harm a person, group, organisation or country.
A survey of 2301 people between February and March this year found that 82 per cent were concerned about how misinformation was spreading in New Zealand with 90 per cent believing it influenced people's views about public health.
More than 80 per cent thought misinformation was becoming more common as almost 60 per cent claimed to have experienced misinformation in the past six months, 21 per cent noticing it daily or weekly.
The report also estimated half of all Kiwis held at least one belief associated with misinformation, with as many as 19 per cent of respondents holding three or more such beliefs.
Seventy-five per cent considered misinformation as an "urgent and serious threat to NZ society". Many respondents identified the internet as playing a key role in spreading such falsehoods.
Eighty-four per cent of people believed action was necessary to reduce misinformation spread. Most saw that responsibility fall to the Government, news media and experts.
The New Zealand Herald has chosen not to detail examples of misinformation in an effort to reduce their prevalence.
University of Auckland research fellow Kate Hannah leads The Disinformation Project - a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment initiative looking at Covid-19 disinformation.
Although she accepted some of the report's findings could be worrying, Hannah said she was reassured by people's ability to detect false information.
"We expect that people will have misinformation narratives that make sense to them; this is what these kinds of conspiracies or narratives are designed to do," she said.
"What is cause for optimism is the way in which our communities recognise the impacts of misinformation, make attempts to counter it or find good information sources when they are exposed to misinformation, and are eager for there to be wide-ranging public discussions about what can be done."
Massey University senior lecturer Dr Jagadish Thaker was not surprised by half of Kiwis believing some form of misinformation and said even those aware of the risk could be susceptible.
"This points to a double-edged sword of self-belief in identifying misinformation—we choose to believe in information that aligns with our prior beliefs and discard other information as misleading."
University of Canterbury senior data science lecturer Giulio Valentino Dalla Riva said the report pointed to a need to improve communication from politicians, journalists and scientists.
"While we are lucky to have many wonderful scientists in New Zealand, we have seen a few that consistently offer examples of bad communication or peddle pseudoscientific claims.
"It is up to us scientists to be worthy of the trust of the public."
Across the country, people had found pamphlets from organisations that promoted false virus claims. Schools had also been targeted by anti-vaxxers.
On the Government's Unite against Covid-19 website, it warned of virus-related scams and encouraged people to report any instances to CERT NZ at email@example.com or 0800 237 869.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said people should be conscious of mistakenly passing on misinformation to others.
"All New Zealanders have a responsibility to stop misinformation and conspiracy theories spreading – that means Government, civil society, tech companies, media, academia, business and the public all have a role to play."