Link to DOI – https://doi.org/10.2196/27472
Heyerdahl LW, Lana B, Giles-Vernick T. The Impact of the Online COVID-19 Infodemic on French Red Cross Actors’ Field Engagement and Protective Behaviors: Mixed Methods Study. JMIR infodemiology. 2021 Oct 6;1(1):e27472.
Background:The COVID-19 pandemic has been widely described as an infodemic, an excess of rapidly circulating information in social and traditional media in which some information may be erroneous, contradictory, or inaccurate. One key theme cutting across many infodemic analyses is that it stymies users’ capacities to identify appropriate information and guidelines, encourages them to take inappropriate or even harmful actions, and should be managed through multiple transdisciplinary approaches. Yet, investigations demonstrating how the COVID-19 information ecosystem influences complex public decision making and behavior offline are relatively few.
Objective:The aim of this study was to investigate whether information reported through the social media channel Twitter, linked articles and websites, and selected traditional media affected the risk perception, engagement in field activities, and protective behaviors of French Red Cross (FRC) volunteers and health workers in the Paris region of France from June to October 2020.
Methods:We used a hybrid approach that blended online and offline data. We tracked daily Twitter discussions and selected traditional media in France for 7 months, qualitatively evaluating COVID-19 claims and debates about nonpharmaceutical protective measures. We conducted 24 semistructured interviews with FRC workers and volunteers.
Results:Social and traditional media debates about viral risks and nonpharmaceutical interventions fanned anxieties among FRC volunteers and workers. Decisions to continue conducting FRC field activities and daily protective practices were also influenced by other factors unrelated to the infodemic: familial and social obligations, gender expectations, financial pressures, FRC rules and communications, state regulations, and relationships with coworkers. Some respondents developed strategies for “tuning out” social and traditional media.
Conclusions:This study suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the information ecosystem may be just one among multiple influences on one group’s offline perceptions and behavior. Measures to address users who have disengaged from online sources of health information and who rely on social relationships to obtain information are needed. Tuning out can potentially lead to less informed decision making, leading to worse health outcomes.https://infodemiology.jmir.org/2021/1/e27472/