How COVID-19 affected Social Media

Mary McArthur

(Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences)

Picture this… it is March 2020. UNCW made the announcement that they are going to switch to online classes for the rest of the semester, toilet paper is gone, and you have to use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves just to go get some milk. This time was very scary for everyone. Nobody has ever experienced anything, so we took to social media to find out information about what is going on. However, the information was not always correct. For instance, CNN reported that a region in Italy, Lombardy, was going on a lock down before receiving official information from the Italian Prime Minister. This resulted in a complete panic of people flooding trains and airports to leave Lombardy before they were stuck. Instead of social distancing, the citizens of Lombardy created a super spread of COVID-19 all because of information that was not true. This example shows how spreading false information over social media can create catastrophic events. 

Interaction Patterns on different apps

In the article The COVID-19 Social Media Infodemic the authors, Matteo Cinelli, Walter Quattrociocchi, Alessandro Galeazzi, Carlo Michele Valensise, Emanuele, Brugnoli, Ana Lucia Schmidt, Paola Zola, Fabiana Zollo and Antonio Scala, review the interactions that users have with COVID-19 topics on Gab, Reddit, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. Gab is a crowdfunded social media company whose structure and features are Twitter-inspired. It performs very little control on content posted; in the political spectrum, its user base is considered to be far-right. Reddit is an American social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website based on collective filtering of information. As you can see in the graphic below, each platform had similar mentions about the pandemic.

(The COVID-19 Social Media Infodemic)

The study also conducted the number of new posts each day of 2020. For all the platforms, there was a change of post around January 20th, which was the first day the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first situation report on COVID. The largest increase in the number of posts was on the 21st of January for Gab, the 24th of January for Reddit, the 30th of January for Twitter, the 31st of January for Youtube and the 5th of February for Instagram” (Cinelli, Quattrociocchi, Galeazzi, Valensise, Emanuele, Brugnoli, Schmidt, Zola, Zollo and Scala,2020). Thus, social media platforms seem to have specific timings for content consumption; such patterns may depend upon the difference in terms of audience and interaction mechanisms (both social and algorithmic) among platforms.

Information Spreading

The article states that “In accordance with the criteria established by MBFC, by questionable information source we mean a news outlet systematically showing one or more of the following characteristics: extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, information not supported by evidence or unverifiable, a complete lack of transparency and/or fake news” (Cinelli, Quattrociocchi, Galeazzi, Valensise, Emanuele, Brugnoli, Schmidt, Zola, Zollo and Scala,2020). As you can see in the figure below, in mainstream social media the number of posts produced by questionable sources represents a small fraction of posts produced by reliable ones; the same thing happens in Reddit. Among less regulated social media, a peculiar effect is observed in Gab: while the volume of posts from questionable sources is just 70% of the volume of posts from reliable ones, the volume of reactions for the former ones is 3 times bigger than the volume for the latter ones. Such results hint the possibility that different platforms react differently to information produced by reliable and questionable news outlets. These results hint the possibility that different platform react differently to information produced by reliable and questionable news outlets.

(The COVID-19 Social Media Infodemic)

Social media is a very powerful tool. It can persuade people into believing information that may or may not be true. In this case, the study found out that Gab is the most likely social media form to spread misinformation. This makes sense because it is not very popular and is known to be a far right platform, which may result in spreading information from a conservatives perspective. The analysis suggests that information spreading is driven by the interaction paradigm imposed by the specific social media or/and by the specific interaction patterns of groups of users engaged with the topic. Understanding social dynamics between content consumption and social media platforms is an important research subject, since it may help to design more efficient epidemic models accounting for social behavior and to design more effective and tailored communication strategies in times of crisis.


Cinelli, M., Quattrociocchi, W., Galeazzi, A., Valensise, C. M., Brugnoli, E., Schmidt, A. L., Zola, P., Zollo, F., & Scala, A. (2020, October 6). The COVID-19 social media infodemic. Nature News. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from