Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.47 1 Jun 2020


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People experiencing 'social media overload' become more likely to believe and share misinformation about COVID-19, according to a new study.

Researchers in NUI Galway and the University of Turku in Finland say that when people search through too much content, it impairs their ability to critically assess if the information is true.

They're also then more likely to share that content throughout their social network, which in turn amplifies the misinformation problem.

The authors of the study point to one story about the COVID-19 situation in Sweden, where very few lockdown measures have been introduced.

An article claiming Sweden was experiencing low death rates was shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook.

However, data has shown that Sweden in fact has a higher number of deaths (over 4,000 people) than neighbouring Denmark and Norway combined (fewer than 1,000 people).

One of the authors of the study, NUI Galway senior lecturer Dr Eoin Whelan, says 'cyberchondria' is another problem that's causing stress.

He explained: "Now that a lot of people are off work and can't do their normal social activity, they're probably spending more time on social media looking for more causes and consequences of COVID-19.

"People are searching more online for information about the pandemic and the virus, and that contributes to their stress and anxiety even further."

The study notes that tech companies have a "significant role to play" in curbing the spread of misinformation about the virus.

It points to examples such as Google highlighting trusted websites in search results, or WhatsApp introducing restrictions on forwarding of COVID-19 misinformation.

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire/PA Images

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