Social media and COVID-19: friend or foe?

In this period of social distancing and extended isolation due to COVID-19, social media has taken on even greater power and influence – for better or for worse. 

It can prove an invaluable way in which to stay connected with others and keep up to date on the ever changing status of COVID-19.

With this access to immediate information comes an overwhelming amount of it. And not all of it accurate or beneficial.

An immense amount of misinformation and internet scams have spread across websites and social media platforms. And while social media companies are working with professionals and organizations like the World Health Organization to dispel all of the false information, there is simply too much of it and not enough time to effectively fact-check it all, according to the New York Times. 

Some of this misinformation consists of fake ‘self-check tests’ and supposed ways to avoid contracting COVID-19, according to CNN. One source alleged that if you hold your breath for ten seconds without coughing that means you don’t have COVID-19. Another claimed that drinking water will better protect you from getting COVID-19. Both of these claims, and a slew of others, are false.

This overload of information may run the risk of fueling a mass panic or may prompt people to not take it seriously enough. A TIME article pointed out that in accordance with human nature, if people see others on social media frantically rushing to stock up on toilet paper, they may feel compelled to do the same or if they see others going out instead of social distancing, they might follow suit.

The spread of information about COVID-19 on social media isn’t completely bad, though. Some say spreading a little fear over the virus can be a good thing as it will help people to react more urgently to this issue. But a little fear is different from full-blown panic.

There’s the great risk of inciting mass hysteria and anxiety in others with these toxic posts. The same TIME article mentioned that the algorithms used by social media platforms to promote certain posts may not prove the most productive as those algorithms tend to highlight more emotionally charged posts, thus helping to promote the spread of misinformation. This would only fuel a fire of international hysteria and anxiety that’s already burning.

While it’s crucial that we stay informed and connected with one another in this challenging time, be sure to approach the information you encounter on social media with a critical eye. Don’t accept all that you read as fact. Be skeptical. 

Most importantly, don’t be the one spreading those conspiracy theories and home remedies to combat COVID-19. The last thing we need is another brutal fight breaking out over a roll of toilet paper.