How the Rampant Rumor Mill on Social Media has Impacted the Health Care Community

By Eva Walton

Going through a global pandemic has been life-changing for every person in the world. It has become so prevalent in our day-to-day lives that it is now the new “normal”; no matter how much we want to escape it. How often nowadays do you go to the store with mask-required signs on the door? How many emails do you receive a day detailing the rising number of cases or the need to get vaccinated? The information regarding the pandemic is surrounding us, but it is especially apparent on all forms of social media.

Social Media VS Corona Virus

An infodemic, which is defined as “an overabundance of information- some accurate and some not- that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” has been being tracked on social media to dispel rumors and other misleading information pertaining to COVID-19 (Islam, 2020). Consider all the times you have been on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook in the past two years and have seen crazy rumors such as “drinking bleach may kill the virus” or that “COVID was a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA” (Islam, 2020). These rumors, stigmas, and conspiracy theories may seem outlandish to most people, have created a multitude of real challenges for the public health field.

(Photo from @schluditsch)

What Does This Mean for the Public Health Community?

Health care workers around the world have been deemed as unsung heroes. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, these heroes have been on the receiving end of physical assault, bullying, and discrimination from their neighbors and landlords (Islam, 2020). The people who are responsible for providing care and aid in dangerous situations or when one is sick are the same people who are receiving mistreatment for simply doing their job. This backlash has gone deeper than hatred for healthcare workers and has stemmed into severe stigmatization and blame on specific races and nationalities. In many high-profile social media posts, the Corona Virus was being referred to as the “Chinese Virus”, leading to reports of physical and violent attacks towards healthcare workers of Asian origin. Apart from the mistreatment of healthcare workers, misinformation has also led to organizations practicing false treatments. One of the popular myths that were brought to reality was that the consumption of highly concentrated alcohol could kill the virus. This led to approximately 800 people dying, 5,876 hospitalized, and 60 developed complete blindness (Islam, 2020). This is just one of many examples of how stigmas and rumors among social media have become extremely harmful to the health care industry.

Panic in a Pandemic

It is no secret that public panic and misinformation can lead to catastrophe. If it is rumored that a huge snowstorm or hurricane is coming, ill-prepared people will rush to the stores to stockpile canned goods, water bottles, batteries, and many other necessities. This has also rung true amidst the pandemic. No one was fully aware of what to expect regarding COVID-19 and the quarantines, leading to panic buying of essential healthcare products such as face masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper (Islam, 2020). Videos began emerging online via TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter that showed stores completely wiped out of products and prices of hand sanitizers and face masks being jacked up to astronomical prices. The shortages of essential goods contributed to hospital and home transmission of COVID-19 in several countries around the world (Islam, 2020). If you find yourself coming across information regarding the pandemic, make sure you are fact-checking and doing proper research, to ensure the information is factual and safe.

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What Can We Trust Anymore?

Amid the pandemic, social media became a war zone of “fake news” and a breeding ground for hatred, misinformation, lies, and rumors. It became intoxicating for many users and made many struggles with their ability to trust the medical community, health professionals, and the government. With high-profile officials, such as former President Donald Trump, causing an uproar with their social media habits, it turned a global health crisis into a political battle, with friends turning against friends and family turning against family. The mistrust with these communities of leaders impacted healthcare-seeking behaviors such as seeking COVID-19 testing and motivated people not to get vaccinated or receive antibiotics (Islam, 2020).

Where Do We Go from Here?

It is important to keep in mind that while social media can lay the groundwork for lies and deception, it has also created a community of real-time information and solutions to help cope with the pandemic as well. Considering the pandemic, we now have access to virtual doctors’ appointments, reliable information from all over the globe, and a live discussion about symptoms and reactions to ongoing diagnoses. Overall, coming across information on the internet can be proven threatening in some ways however, here are resources to fact check and cancel out the “fake news”: