It is a virus of a different kind: A study by NUI Galway has found people can feel overwhelmed by social media content, impairing their critical faculties and ultimately contributing to the spread of false information about Covid-19.
The study, carried out by the JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway, also looks at ‘cyberchondria’, defined as the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomology based on review of search results and literature online, often with counter-productive results.
According to the report, when people attribute a higher severity and susceptibility to Covid-19, they spend more time searching online for related symptoms, which then amplifies the stress and anxiety experienced because of cyberchondria.
The researchers said misinformation deliberately intended to deceive poses a serious threat to public health during the coronavirus pandemic and the rapid spreading of such misinformation is amplified by social media and could result in the lack of adherence to recommended public health measures, or engagement in non-recommended behaviours.
One example given was the claim of a lower death rate from Covid-19 in Sweden, where lockdown measures were not implemented, with one such story shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook.
In reality, Sweden has a death toll of more than 4,000, much higher figure than the combined toll of its Scandinavian neighbours.
Co-author of the study, Eoin Whelan, said: “While misinformation is not a new problem, the quantity and dissemination of misinformation has grown exponentially due to the ubiquity of social media.
“Social media companies have a significant role to play in curbing Covid-19 misinformation.”