The spread of disinformation has been a topic of heightened concern, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the response to a public health crisis relies on the ability for public officials to inform citizens. Using a representative two-wave panel of internet users in Brazil, we examine the relationship between pathways to information, WhatsApp use, and the persistence of misinformed beliefs about the pandemic. We find a strong relationship between presidential support, right-wing news sources, and participating in WhatsApp groups with strangers, and becoming more misinformed over time. Conversely, most media diets (traditional news media, social media and WhatsApp for news) had no effect. However, Bolsonaro supporters, using WhatsApp and Facebook for news was strongly associated with increasing and persistent misinformation. Our findings provide further evidence that political leaders undermine a country’s ability to respond to a pandemic insofar as they breed mistrust in other institutions by instrumentalizing public health measures to win political fights.
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