COVID-19 has resulted in a serious outbreak and has quickly become a global pandemic. Social media is one of the main platforms that health officials utilize to update the public on information related to COVID-19 including prevention tactics, government regulations, and daily updates of active cases. Accordingly, the public is likely to increase their reliance on timely updates from trusted sources in the media during this crisis. Gao and colleagues (2020) suggest that the communication of information related to the crisis has presented a secondary problem as repeated media exposure can lead to increased stress responses and anxiety. Among Chinese citizens, who began experiencing increased social media exposure when the virus originated, Gao and colleagues (2020) found that 82% of participants (Total 4872 participants) reported frequent exposure to social media. They also found evidence to suggest that frequent social media exposure was related to high instances of anxiety and depression when compared to individuals with less social media exposure.
Previous research suggests that both the amount of exposure and the type of media (i.e., exposure to graphic images) can impact psychological responses to traumatic public events. Social media can also be an outlet for the public to express their own experience of the pandemic including fear and anxiety, which has previously been shown to generate emotional contagion (Kramer, Guillory, and Hancock, 2014). Beyond consequences to mental health, too much media exposure can also lead to amplification of help-seeking behavior that can overburden healthcare facilities. Additionally, it can lead to overactive health-protective behaviors including overstocking on toilet paper, facemasks, bottled water, and hand sanitizer has led to global shortages of necessities.
Garfin, Silver, and Holman (2020) recommend the following:
1. Minimize exposure to information that is repetitive: try to limit exposure to media that provides new information or critical updates
2. Avoid content based on opinion/speculation: Rely on authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for up-to-date information related to transmission, prevention, and community updates
3. Avoid content that contains graphic images or sensationalism: Be aware of the misinformation that can be spread on social media and create undue stress
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization provide up-to-date information through social media and their websites:
Author: Michelle Meleka, M.A.
Gao, J., Zheng, P., Jia, Y., Chen, H., Mao, Y., Chen, S., Wang, Y., Fu, H., & Dai, J. (2020). Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak. PLoS ONE, 15(4).
Garfin, D. R., Silver, R. C., & Holman, E. A. (2020). The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak: Amplification of public health consequences by media exposure. Health Psychology, 39(5), 355–357. https://dbproxy.lasalle.edu:6149/10.1037/hea0000875
Kramer, Adam D. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(24), 8788-8790. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320040111