Social Media's Impact on the Spread of Information on COVID-19
Updated: Dec 24, 2020
The COVID-19 Pandemic has completely turned the world upside down in the span of just a few months. It’s been politicized, has been underestimated and has even been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories, but if it’s taught us anything, it’s taught us how to adapt. How to adapt with the abrupt halt of the previous school year, how to adapt to online school for the current school year, and having to continuously adapt to thoughts of an even more dreary and unpredictable future. In the past 8 months, we’ve experienced a racial upheaval, the United States presidential elections, 3 typhoons, multiple headaches from the incompetencies of our local government, and most prominently a global pandemic. But if there has been anything that has thrived and flourished in the midst of this mess, it’s social media. Social media is designed to make information more easily accessible for the community. Never has there ever been a platform where spreading information to the general public was as easy as clicking the post button, and in a year where information should be dispersed as quickly as possible, it has definitely been one of the most vital and most used channels of information dissemination during this pandemic.
Over the past few years, social media has been slowly replacing a lot of classic forms of media. In a survey done in 2018 by the Pew Research Center, 20% of Americans use social media often as their source of news. This slightly surpasses radio usage by a margin of 4%. This slow shift is more evident in younger generations. For ages 18-29, 36% of them, which is the highest percentage in their age group, use social media as their main source of news information. This is heavily contrasted with people of ages 65+. Only 8% of them use social media as a source of information, while 81% use television as their main source of news. In another survey held by the Social Weather Stations, 21% of Filipinos use social media as their main source of news. This follows television at 60%.
In a survey conducted by the one of our own writers, she concluded that a majority of people who took it used social media as their main source of news during the pandemic. 72% of participants relied on social media instead of news sources for updates about COVID-19. 96% of participants believed themselves to be well-educated and informed about the pandemic. Surprisingly enough though, these people did not all agree with each other when it came to the effect of social media on their perception of COVID-19. Only 49% of participants said that their views on the pandemic were shaped in a big way by social media. Another interesting thing to note is that around 78% of participants said they were afraid of COVID-19 while only 50% of participants attributed this fear to social media. Clearly, social media doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Despite this, it can be said that social media has had a major impact on the way we consume information be it good or bad.
With scientists discovering new information about COVID-19 almost every single day, social media has become the easiest and most convenient way for media companies to disperse new found reports to the public as quickly as possible. However, this also has its own cons, the most prominent is spreading misinformation or “fake news” about COVID-19. Obviously, not everyone present in social media is qualified to speak about this topic, and as quickly as COVID spread across the world, false information about it spread even quicker. From Facebook posts saying that the cold weather or snow has the ability to kill the Coronavirus to posts saying that this was all orchestrated by the Chinese government for their plan of “world domination” (though the latter statement being more racially motivated). Research done by the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Italy concluded that during March 2020, an average of 46,000 Twitter tweets were tweeted every day that contained misinformation about COVID-19. On top of that, another survey conducted by the Office of Communications in the United Kingdom confirmed that over 46% of the 2000 respondents reported receiving misleading information on social media about the COVID-19 crisis while over 40% are “finding it hard to know what is true or false about the virus”. In the United States, a survey done by faculty members at the Harvard Medical School, Northwestern University, Northeastern University, Rutgers University, and the Harvard Kennedy School showed that out of the 21,000 respondents that were surveyed between August 7 and 26 2020, 28% of Snapchat users, 23% of Instagram users, and 25% of Wikipedia users believed inaccurate claims.
This problem has reached such a state where worldwide organizations have been forced to step in. The World Health Organization has tried to solve this issue by working with social media companies like Facebook and Google to debunk myths and false information posted on their platforms. Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, says, “Our common enemy is a virus, but our enemy is also a growing surge of misinformation. So to overcome this virus, we need to urgently promote facts and science. We also need to promote hope and solidarity over despair and division.” This infodemic of misinformation has risen from the sheer mass of new articles, social media posts, and studies on this virus. According to LitCovid, a curated literature hub for all information about COVID-19, around 77,000 studies have been written for PubMed, the official online search engine of the US National Library of Medicine, on Covid-19. With new information being generated at a rapid pace, false information is more likely to be unnoticed and slowly accepted. An information overload can make it much harder to find solid solutions.
Now more than ever, social media has become an even more integral part of our daily lives. While there is a rather diverse array of social media platforms to choose from, the bottom line is regardless of what social media app you decide to immerse yourself in, you’re immediately connected with millions, if not billions of people around the world with just a click of a finger. In a year where everyone across the globe is going through the same problems and challenges, social media has become a way for us to empathize, connect, and unite with each other in a way that’s never been done before.
That’s why it’s even more important to remember how we act and what we do on these platforms. A famous quote from Spiderman says that with great power comes great responsibility, and we’ve been given great powers. Social media has allowed everyday people to share crucial information with those who need it. But it’s also become a web of misinformation, deceit, and fear. It’s up to us, the users, whether we fuel that fear or put it out. Researching and validating your information before posting is a great way to avoid the spread of misinformation. Being skeptical while not disrespectful is another great way to think critically and analyze whether the information we’re getting is accurate and true.
During this Christmas season, let’s not share our fears and anxieties. In a world already burdened with uncertainties and worries, let’s share the love and hope in our hearts. We’ve been given a platform and path to spread this joy, so why not take it? It’s up to you whether we try to make the world around us better. You can do that by simply taking the time to think about what you’re posting. Is it truthful? Is it necessary? Will it cause fear? Whatever it is you do on social media, let’s all be channels for joy and hope while still being realistic about the realities we face as a nation.
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Shearer, E. (2018, December 10). Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/10/social-media-outpaces-print-newspapers-in-the-u-s-as-a-news-source/
Stations, S. W. (2019, June 29). Social Weather Stations | First Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: 1 of 5 adult Pinoys use Facebook daily as a source of news. Social Weather Stations. https://www.sws.org.ph/swsmain/artcldisppage/?artcsyscode=ART-20190629182313&mc_cid=023b1e53fe&mc_eid=31b9d30a85
United Nations. (2020, March 31). UN tackles ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and cybercrime in COVID-19 crisis. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19
Special Thanks to: Sara Cawley, Michael Tanios, Zhenwei Gao, and Melanie Tang for co-administering the survey.