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Abstract

Within weeks of the emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in China, misleading rumours and conspiracy theories about the origin circulated the globe paired with fearmongering, racism and mass purchase of face masks, all closely linked to the new "infomedia" ecosystems of the 21 st century marked by social media. A striking particularity of this crisis is the coincidence of virology and virality: not only did the virus itself spread very rapidly, but so did the information-and misinformation-about the outbreak, and thus the panic that it created among the public. The social media panic traveled faster than the COVID-19 spread. In many ways, we could identify here a metonymic principle, where the images directly related to the physical epicentres crisis (the archaic imagery of quarantine and confinement) were often associated to places and people connected with this archaic imagery: Chinese restaurants, Chinese tourists, goods from Asia, etc. leading to widespread distrust and outburst of racism. Chinese-looking residents who have never set foot in China were one of the first victims of such viral racism. WHO`s Director General Dr Tedros calls this the fight against "trolls and conspiracy theories". Misinformation causes confusion and spreads fear, thereby hampering the response to the outbreak. "Misinformation on the coronavirus might be the most contagious thing about it", he says. The impact of media reporting and public sentiments may have a strong influence on the public and private sectors in making decisions on discontinuing certain services including airline services, disproportionate to the true public health need. Travel restrictions are one example, and we need to unpack the influence of social media on such measures that carry a huge economic loss.
The pandemic of social media panic travels faster than the COVID-19 outbreak
Anneliese Depoux PhD, Sam Martin PhD, Emilie Karafillakis MSc, Raman Preet BSD,
Annelies Wilder-Smith MD, Heidi Larson PhD
Centre Virchow-Villerme, Paris, France
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
Within weeks of the emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in China, misleading
rumours and conspiracy theories about the origin circulated the globe paired with
fearmongering, racism and mass purchase of face masks, all closely linked to the new
“infomedia” ecosystems of the 21st century marked by social media. A striking
particularity of this crisis is the coincidence of virology and virality: not only did the
virus itself spread very rapidly, but so did the information and misinformation about
the outbreak, and thus the panic that it created among the public.1,2 The social media
panic traveled faster than the COVID-19 spread.3 In many ways, we could identify here a
metonymic principle, where the images directly related to the physical epicentres crisis
(the archaic imagery of quarantine and confinement) were often associated to places
and people connected with this archaic imagery: Chinese restaurants, Chinese tourists,
goods from Asia, etc. leading to widespread distrust and outburst of racism.4 Chinese-
looking residents who have never set foot in China were one of the first victims of such
viral racism.
WHO`s Director General Dr Tedros calls this the fight against “trolls and conspiracy
theories”. Misinformation causes confusion and spreads fear, thereby hampering the
response to the outbreak. “Misinformation on the coronavirus might be the most
contagious thing about it”, he says.
The impact of media reporting and public sentiments may have a strong influence on the
public and private sectors in making decisions on discontinuing certain services
including airline services, disproportionate to the true public health need. Travel
restrictions are one example, and we need to unpack the influence of social media on
such measures that carry a huge economic loss. The spatio-temporal variability in the
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discussions on social media, specifically Twitter, is often not in line with the
spatiotemporal occurrence and intensity of the outbreak.
In addition to addressing the urgent need to scale-up public health measures to combat
the outbreak, we need to combat the pandemic of social media panic.5 To this end, it is
important to conduct spatiotemporal analyses of the discourse and its association, or
disassociation, with the epidemiological situation as this will allow spatiotemporal
targeted communication and intervention campaigns to be executed by public health
authorities. We need to rapidly detect and respond to public rumours, perceptions,
attitudes and behaviours around COVID-19 and control measures. The creation of an
interactive platform and dashboard to provide real-time alerts of rumours and concerns
about coronavirus spreading globally would enable public health officials and relevant
stakeholders to respond rapidly with a proactive and engaging narrative that can
mitigate misinformation.
At a time when we have no other tools at hand to combat COVID-19 other than non-
pharmaceutical interventions such as quarantine and social distancing6, social media
intelligence should be harnessed to enhance the needed mobilisation of the public and
local communities to follow quarantine procedures, quickly decrease the spread of fears
and uncertainty, and enhance public trust in public health measures. Only by
collaborating with concerned communities and citizens and by providing careful
guidance for public participation can we ensure the efficacy of quarantine orders during
emerging epidemics.7
Analyses of discussions on social media with regards to the epidemic situation
geographically (geocoded tweets/messages) and over time (timestamped
tweets/messages) can result in real-time maps. Such real time maps could then be used
as a source of information on where to intervene with key communication campaigns.
A communications strategy with toolkits would need to be developed urgently as a
contribution to the immediate needs for a public health response and important
groundwork for improving frameworks for response in the face of future global
outbreaks. This is especially important for countries that are lacking well developed
media listening techniques or are in need of more efficient yet “controlled transparency”
regarding the epidemic, and for populations that are more vulnerable during the
outbreak due to lack of information. The impact of deploying a toolkit would enhance
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efforts to empower the public and enable them to become more informed consumers
who can make decisions and act from a more knowledgeable and personally confident
position - in line with public health measures. The main component for positive impact
is an emphasis on the exchange of balanced information presented as much as possible
to promote 'learning' and positioning of the consumer as a necessary active participant
in a much more complex health information environment (compared to public health
messaging of the past). A digital toolkit could be also harnessed to build future tools for
rapid deployment and engagement where multilingual and socio-cultural responses are
needed. WHO has created a WHO myth busters webpage to address and correct
misinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak. The mass panic can only be fought
with information.8
Social media can and should be harnessed to support the public health response. For
example, in China during the massive community-wide quarantine it is particularly
important to use social media wisely as social media provide an opportunity to
communicate the reasons for quarantine, provide reassurance and practical advice in
order to pre-empt rumours and panic. Digital technologies can overcome the social
distancing constraints during mass quarantine, and provide mental health support
resources and solidarity with those persons in a lock-down situation. A well-planned
analysis of global online conversations could provide a rapid assessment of the spread
and possible changes in public attitudes and behaviours (e.g. self-isolating, hand-
washing, accessing health care), awareness about the disease and its symptoms, and the
impact of important decisions taken during the outbreak (e.g. quarantine measures,
development of new vaccines, internationally coordinated responses) on public
perceptions and attitudes.
Previous work in this area includes the EBODAC project (EBOla vaccine Deployment,
Acceptance and Compliance initiative) in 2014.9 This included the development of
country level communication and engagement strategies to deal with problems that
arose around quarantine measures across multiple African countries in the deployment
of Ebola vaccine trials, as well as guiding the implementation of a rumour management
strategy and community listening networks, social media monitoring and development
of tools and mobile technologies to promote the acceptance and uptake of new Ebola
vaccines.
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For the current COVID-19 crisis, we call for the development of a real-time information
sharing system, drawing from data and analyses from a range of social media platforms,
in multiple languages, and across the global diaspora. This will enhance the ability of
public health bodies and relevant stakeholders to respond to and understand the social
dynamics of the increasingly fast and evolving spread of information and
misinformation about the coronavirus and the outbreak and control measures. It will
also reduce community panic, and unhelpful measures disproportionate to the cause.
Contributions: All authors are part of CoV-IMPACT consortium, and contributed equally
to this manuscript.
Conflict of Interest
none declared.
References
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... Social media platforms (Facebook, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Youtube, Instagram and Twitter) provide unprecedented numbers of users with direct access to uncontrolled content, which amplifies rumors and the spread of questionable, including fake information. For example, an international team of researchers (Depoux et al., 2020) drew attention to rumors and conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19, which circulated on social networks and spread faster than the epidemic itself, giving rise to racism, fear and compulsive buying, including the purchase of protective masks, and also led to the killing of four Chinese people who had never been to China. In these actions, the authors saw infodemic as a viral form of spreading information about the epidemic, drawing attention to a quote from the speech of the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros, who stated that "fakes about coronavirus are more infectious than the virus itself" (WHO Director-General's..., 2020). ...
... The authors recommend that health authorities post more tweets from their official accounts and run information literacy schools. Also, researchers (Depoux et al., 2020), recommend the creation of interactive platforms and dashboards to alert in real time to rumors and concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus worldwide, allowing policymakers and health officials and relevant stakeholders to respond quickly, proactively to mitigate misinformation and neutralize fakes. In our opinion, such work in Russia is currently insufficient. ...
... However, prolonged use of social media by the isolated could be a double-edged sword that can adversely affect mental health due to sustained exposure to excessive information and misinformation [9][10][11]. While social media in digital platforms does help to promote social inclusion among adolescents and young adults, the risk associated with their excessive or problematic use cannot be overlooked [12]. ...
... depression: OR = 1.42, 95% CI: 0.69-2.90). High-quality studies had low inter-study heterogeneity (anxiety: I 2 = 0.00%; Table 1 Association between social media use and anxiety a and depression b a Anxiety symptoms were ascertained using the GAD-7 (cut-off: 10 depression: I 2 = 0.00%). The kappa statistic (inter-rater agreement) was 33.3%, indicating fair agreement. ...
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Background Public isolated due to the early quarantine regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increasingly used more social media platforms. Contradictory claims regarding the effect of social media use on mental health needs to be resolved. The purpose of the study was to summarise the association between the time spent on social media platform during the COVID-19 quarantine and mental health outcomes (i.e., anxiety and depression). Methods Studies were screened from the PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Library databases. Regarding eligibility criteria, studies conducted after the declaration of the pandemic, studies that measured mental health symptoms with validated tools, and studies that presented quantitative results were eligible. The studies after retrieval evaluated the association between time spent on social media platform and mental health outcomes (i.e. anxiety and depression). The pooled estimates of retrieved studies were summarised in odds ratios (ORs). Data analyses included a random-effect model and an assessment of inter-study heterogeneity. Quality assessment was conducted by two independent researchers using the Risk of Bias Assessment Tool for Nonrandomized Studies (RoBANS). This meta-analysis review was registered in PROSPERO ( https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/ , registration No CRD42021260223, 15 June 2021). Results Fourteen studies were included. The increase in the time spent using social media platforms were associated with anxiety symptoms in overall studies (pooled OR = 1.55, 95% CI: 1.30–1.85), and the heterogeneity between studies was mild (I ² = 26.77%). Similarly, the increase in social media use time was also associated with depressive symptoms (pooled OR = 1.43, 95% CI: 1.30–1.85), and the heterogeneity between studies was moderate (I ² = 67.16%). For sensitivity analysis, the results of analysis including only the “High quality” studies after quality assessment were similar to those of the overall study with low heterogeneity (anxiety: pooled OR = 1.45, 95% CI: 1.21–1.96, I ² = 0.00%; depression: pooled OR = 1.42, 95% CI: 0.69–2.90, I ² = 0.00%). Conclusions The analysis demonstrated that the excessive time spent on social media platform was associated with a greater likelihood of having symptoms of anxiety and depression.
... Such robustness has, yet again, been rekindled during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, granting the capability for systematic management of the pandemic (Goel & Gupta, 2020). However, the study by Depoux et al. (2020) recognised the tendency for miscommunication across social media platforms, with negative implications arising from untrue information related to a particular crisis. It is indeed well-acknowledged that despite being useful in transferring real-time updates on a global pandemic, social media has also contributed to the deterioration of mental wellbeing among residents by disseminating anxiety and fear (Ahmad & Murad, 2020). ...
... On similar note, significance of social factors, comprised of WOM and social media towards panic purchase has also been confirmed within the current study. Supported by both Depoux et al. (2020) and Ahmad and Murad (2020), shared information via social platforms possesses considerable influence in shaping consumers' perceptions regarding such adversity in view of its constant escalation which overshadowed severity of the actual situation. Whereas, such discovery has overturned the proposition by Naeem (2020a) on the associations between social media information, pandemic-oriented beliefs and health-related precautions. ...
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Following various precautionary measures as executed by the government to curb the transmission of COVID-19, erratic changes in the form of temporary lockdowns and movement restrictions have created an emergency phenomenon—panic buying. While such consequence has emerged as a timely and relevant topic, reviewed literature indicate an apparent oversight for portraying panic buying through the perspectives of impulsive and compulsive consumptions. Given the gap in the association between panic buying and consumers’ emotional aspects within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study aspires to develop a contemporary measurement that accurately defines panic buying as a research variable. A combined methodology was hereby adopted, with the employment of qualitative inquiries towards the scale development of panic buying. Following this, quantitative data as collected from a total sample of 600 respondents through an online survey was analysed via both SPSS and AMOS statistical software towards scale assessment and hypothesis testing. Obtained findings uncovered the direct significance of both personal (fear, perceived risk, and perceived scarcity) and social (word-of-mouth and social media) factors on panic buying during the pandemic, whilst having indirect significance on the ensuing post-purchase regret. Impulsivity was further confirmed to exert a substantial moderating impact on the correlation between panic consumption and post-purchase emotional distress. Implications of the study are ultimately discussed.
... A pervasive response to a disaster or crisis is stockpiling, colloquially known as hoarding or panic buying (Chen, Rajabifard et al., 2020). In the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020), stockpiling was more extreme and widespread in Australia than most of the 54 countries analysed in one study (Keane & Neal, 2021), with researchers arguing that consumer panic underpinning stockpiling was spreading faster than the virus itself Depoux, Martin et al., 2020). Indeed, stockpiling is directly correlated with the introduction of government lockdowns, with people stockpiling foods and other necessary items directly after news of imminent lockdowns (Prentice, Chen, & Stantic, 2020). ...
... Although potentially 'rational' behaviour in response to fear or distress during COVID-19 (Rajkumar, 2020;Taylor, 2021), stockpiling can also be seen as a negative social behaviour because it might lead to shortages of products for others (Micalizzi, Zambrotta et al., 2021). Various literature reported the negative stereotype of 'stockpiling' documented in the media Atlani-Duault, Ward et al., 2020;Depoux, Martin et al., 2020;Kumar & Nayar, 2020). ...
... The exposure to the media world causes the public to actively search for information according to their needs and satisfaction through reporting information. COVID-19 emerged as a sedition pandemic from the day first as the opportunity to spread fear, bigotry, and a new market for the medicine industry that is marketed by social media (Depoux et al., 2020). ...
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This study aims to analyze the effect of COVID-19 message exposure through the use of conventional media and new media based on indicators of frequency, duration, and consistency. Analysis of gratifications based on indicators seeking information, social interaction, and education. This study analyzes the uses and gratifications theory through conventional and new media exposure to COVID-19 pandemic information exposure. The quantitative research method tests the theory of uses and gratifications that is based on indicators of research variables. The determination of respondents is completed through probability sampling comprises of 384 respondents. Research data is analyzed with the inferential statistics with the ANOVA formula analysis. The results showed that the three indicators of satisfaction fulfillment testing indicators, namely seeking information, social interaction, and education are in middle satisfaction. The results of the regression analysis test showed that there was a positive influence on variable X (media exposure) on the level of respondent satisfaction (Y). The results of the coefficient of determination are 0.588 conventional media and the determination of new media of 0.553 is the level of satisfaction of respondents. The validity and accuracy of the uses and gratifications theory in the exposure to the COVID-19 message and respondent satisfaction are positively correlated. The research specifications of the uses and gratifications approach in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic prove that conventional media is still needed by millennials in the search for information after the development of new media.
... In this process, based on the risk communication theory (Otway and Wynne, 1989), the individual follows the course of the outbreak based on the information (infection, mortality and recovery cases, preventive measures and their efficacy, etc.) from various media (Du et al., 2020). This information flow process plays a critical role in the risk assessment of the outbreak (Depoux et al., 2020). An individual's awareness about the threat and the efficacy of advised precautionary behaviors is often related to the communication and dissemination of necessary information to the public and public intention to seek relevant information from various sources (Holmes, 2008). ...
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... Although our analysis did not find any difference in whether dentist received training or not, the source of training was different: almost 50% in private clinics and 25% in university/government hospitals had training by social media. Social media plays an important role in changing public attitudes, behavior, and awareness especially during a pandemic situation [34]; however, there is some fake and misleading information [35,36]. Because a dental setting is considered a high-risk for nosocomial infection [9], dentists should be able to get access to evidence-based information and training sources for COVID-19 prevention and management, especially for private clinics dentists. ...
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Public health measures were decisive in controlling the SARS epidemic in 2003. Isolation is the separation of ill persons from non-infected persons. Quarantine is movement restriction, often with fever surveillance, of contacts when it is not evident whether they have been infected but are not yet symptomatic or have not been infected. Community containment includes measures that range from increasing social distancing to community-wide quarantine. Whether these measures will be sufficient to control 2019-nCoV depends on addressing some unanswered questions.
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A novel coronavirus, probably of bat origin, has caused an outbreak of severe respiratory infection in humans in Wuhan, China and has been dispersed globally by travelers. The WHO has declared the spread of the infection a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
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This essay examines how Chinese governments, local communities, and overseas Chinese in North America responded to the perceived health risks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and H1N1 flu through the use of public and participatory rhetoric about risk and quarantines. Focusing on modes of security and quarantine practices, I examine how globalization and the social crises surrounding SARS and H1N1 flu operated to regulate differently certain bodies and areas. I identify three types of quarantines (mandatory, voluntary, and coerced) and conduct a transnational comparative analysis to investigate the relationships among quarantines, rhetoric, and public communication. I argue that health authorities must openly acknowledge the legitimacy of public input and actively seek public support regarding health crises. Only by collaborating with concerned communities and citizens and by providing careful guidance for public participation can health institutions ensure the efficacy of quarantine orders during emerging epidemics.
Mediating panic: The iconography of 'new' infectious threats
  • A King
King A. Mediating panic: The iconography of 'new' infectious threats, 1936-2009. In: R P, ed. Empires of panic: Epidemics and colonial anxieties;