Examining the impact of sharing COVID-19 misinformation online on mental health

Gaurav Verma, Ankur Bhardwaj, Talayeh Aledavood, Munmun De Choudhury, Srijan Kumar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic proliferated widely on social media platforms during the course of the health crisis. Experts have speculated that consuming misinformation online can potentially worsen the mental health of individuals, by causing heightened anxiety, stress, and even suicidal ideation. The present study aims to quantify the causal relationship between sharing misinformation, a strong indicator of consuming misinformation, and experiencing exacerbated anxiety. We conduct a large-scale observational study spanning over 80 million Twitter posts made by 76,985 Twitter users during an 18.5 month period. The results from this study demonstrate that users who shared COVID-19 misinformation experienced approximately two times additional increase in anxiety when compared to similar users who did not share misinformation. Socio-demographic analysis reveals that women, racial minorities, and individuals with lower levels of education in the United States experienced a disproportionately higher increase in anxiety when compared to the other users. These findings shed light on the mental health costs of consuming online misinformation. The work bears practical implications for social media platforms in curbing the adverse psychological impacts of misinformation, while also upholding the ethos of an online public sphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8045
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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