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New report details COVID-19’s impact on the digital economy

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In the year after the World Health Organization named COVID-19 a pandemic, researchers at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy tracked how the crisis unfolded across several fronts, gathering valuable information for business leaders, policymakers, and individuals trying to navigate the pandemic. A new report, Our World Accelerated: COVID-19 and the Digital Economy, outlines research on how the pandemic has affected society, technology, and the global economy. The research includes:

How the behavior of others affects COVID-19 decision-making

Researchers conducted the world’s largest survey on COVID-19 beliefs, behaviors, and norms, carried out in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and Facebook, and with input from the World Health Organization and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. The survey found that providing accurate information about how others are largely accepting vaccines positively influenced people to seek vaccines themselves, with 65% of adults surveyed saying they would choose to get a vaccine if it became available.

Researchers also found that COVID-19 policies in U.S. states and counties could significantly affect the health and behavior of others in distant communities — both nearby, through travel, and geographically distant, through social and digital connections. This was clear in an evaluation of various COVID-19 reopening policies, and emphasized the need for coordinated responses.

The future of work and the resumption of economic activity

In a look at the future of work following the pandemic, researchers argued that which companies survive and thrive depends on an ability to adapt, reorganize, and implement digital technologies. As the pandemic was unfolding in March 2020, MIT Sloan management professordirector of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, outlined a five-point plan to avoid an economic meltdown.

Policymakers have made a variety of decisions about which businesses should reopen first. Researchers used data to determine which areas and types of businesses would be the highest risk to reopen, and used a field experiment in Zhengzhou, China to learn about how to encourage people to resume economic activity after COVID-19.

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The role of social media, misinformation, and messaging

A study found COVID-19 skepticism in the U.S. is correlated with political polarization. With communities of color experiencing higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, another active study is looking at how race is associated with vaccine acceptance.   

Researchers also found effective ways of communicating about COVID-19, including an “accuracy nudge” to prompt people to think about whether content is accurate before they share it. Researchers also looked at whether public health messaging should focus on prevention to individuals, society, or both.

Five takeaways

  1. The impact of government interventions and social distancing on the pandemic is critical.
  2. Post-pandemic planning is key to the economic fallout and business implications of COVID-19.
  3. Social media has a large role in creating and fighting coronavirus misinformation and bias.
  4. Digital technology helped track COVID-19 and transformed the nature of work.
  5. Vaccine acceptance is still unfolding, but there are ways to increase approval.

Download the report  

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