3 Top Tips to Fight Covid Misinformation & its Mental Health Impact
With lockdowns looming, how do we help health anxiety sufferers see through misinformation and fake news?
Covid-19 Misinformation – 3 Tips to Help
Anxiety around Covid-19 is high, and understandably so. The pandemic has cost over a million lives across the world with many more suffering health effects as a result of the virus. The last thing we need is for this to be heightened or confused by fake news. Misinformation, conspiracy theories or even intentional disinformation can lead to poorer mental health and sadly it spreads division at a time when a sense of community and shared hardship should be at its highest.
What can we do?
Luckily, there are lot of steps to help those struggling with Covid-19 fake news. An effective part of managing Covid anxiety is using trustworthy, fact-based information. In this blog post we will look at:
What is Covid-19 Misinformation?
Misinformation around the pandemic has become so bad that the United Nations has called 2020 the year of the ‘infodemic’.
What is an Infodemic?
Infodemic (i.e. information pandemic) is a term used to describe the rapid spread of false information regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of this is intentionally distorted, some of this is accidental and those who created or shared it believed it to be true.
First – lets cover a little bit of theory…
You will see three key terms occur a lot when people talk about ‘fake news’: disinformation, malinformation and misinformation (which is often used as a catch all term).
As you can see, there are lots of different types of fake news that we and our clients need to watch out for. In the end though, they can all affect mental health in the same way – preventing good decision making and often making extreme statements causing anxiety or anger. They can even feed behaviour such as ‘doomscrolling’.
What is doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling (or doomsurfing) is the phenomenon whereby people repeatedly scroll through negative or distressing news despite the fact that it may harm their mental health.
Luckily, we have techniques for spotting and tackling these forms of misinformation. Key to them all is to improve our ‘media literacy’ (i.e. our ability to critical assess and understand the information we look at).
Let’s take a look at what we can do about it…
1. Go Viral!
We don’t yet have an inoculation against Covid-19, but we can inoculate against fake news. Or at least that’s what the University of Cambridge believe. For 5 minutes Go Viral!, their new online game, asks you to be the villain of the story crafting your own campaign of false information for maximum chaos. This enjoyable journey into the mechanics of disinformation is carefully steered by Cambridge’s Psychology Department and feeds further into their research on misinformation.
Studies have shown that those who play the game, even just once, are better and more confident at spotting fake news., More importantly, the game isn’t aimed at debunking a limited number of Covid-19 myths. Instead, it provides a new skillset to continue to identify false and misleading claims.
Play the game at Go Viral!
Other organisations also run fact-checking quizzes to test your skills. Good examples include the Fact Checker Quiz by EUvsDisInfo.
2. Take Action
Loss of control is one of the main factors influencing stress and decreased wellbeing. What could be more out of our control than a global pandemic? False information may well be here to stay, but taking some control over this can be empowering for some.
There are a multitude of fact-checking organisations looking for help. Using an organisation will also help to prevent possible problems such as entering into harmful social media battles with those promoting falsehoods. New social connections and communities can also be formed, developing a positive sense of self and contribution. Organisations like the International Fact Checking Network also run Teen networks for younger audiences to both debunk misinformation and teach media literacy.
Remember this may not be a suitable option for everyone. Knowing how to report false information is a positive move for control but involvement on a more regular basis will expose the individual to a lot more misinformation, potentially heightening some mental health issues.
3. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Social Media
Cutting out social media simply isn’t an option for many, and it may even lead to increased risk of isolation and loneliness. But that isn’t to say we can’t have a better relationship with it.
- Set time limits. If willpower alone isn’t enough, many phones now have the option to limit time spent on social media. A timely reminder of just how many hours could have been spent on something else can help us all realise when we are overdoing it.
- Set a purpose. Social media is often compared to going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Those who log in with a clear intent in mind may find they are less consumed and distracted by other content.
- Set standards. Misinformation spreads. Committing to fact check before sharing can set good behaviour that will stop infodemic.
What is Next?
Misinformation has the potential to cause real harm, but it is avoidable. The 3 suggestions above are by no means an exhaustive list of the things we, as individuals and mental health professionals, can do. But they are a great way to start. These should allow you to develop confidence in the world of misinformation and in encouraging clients to do the same, in a way that you can tailor to suit their needs.
What else impacts online mental health?
Misinformation doesn’t have to be limited to written words or tweets. Check out our blog post on manipulated visual images (yes we mean photoshop!) and the negative effect on young people’s body images
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How to Reference this Blog Post
Suggested reference for this post:
School of Applied Mental Health (2020). 3 Top Tips to Fight Covid Misinformation & its Mental Health Impact. Available from: https://www.schoolofappliedmentalhealth.com/covid-misinformation-mental-health
 United Nations (2020). UN Tackles ‘Infodemic’ of Misinformation and Cybercrime in Covid-19 Crisis. Available from: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19
 University of Cambridge (2020). Go Viral! Cambridge Game ‘Pre-Bunks’ Covid-19 Conspiracies as Park of the UK Government’s Fight Against Fake News. Available from: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/goviral
 Roozenbeek, J., and van der Linden, S. (2019). Fake News Game confers Psychological Resistance Against online misinformation. Palgrave Communications, 5, 65. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-019-0279-9
 Basol, M., Roozenbeek, J., and van der Linden, S. (2020). Good News about Bad `news: Gamified Inoculation Boosts Confidence and cognitive Immunity Against fake News. Journal of Cognition, 3(1), 2. Available from: https://www.journalofcognition.org/articles/10.5334/joc.91/
 National Health Service (2018). 10 Stress Busters. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/reduce-stress/