Online news content and mental health

Online news content and mental health

Across the world, many of us are in lockdown, which either means that we are working from home or not working at all. Inevitably, this has an effect on our mental health. 46% of people in a recent survey say that their mental health is now worse than it was pre-coronavirus. Another thing indicated by the survey, is that the more we consume televised and online news, the worse our mental health becomes. The worst of the online news is that of social media, however Facebook was not the main offender on this occasion, the main culprit was Reddit.

Apparently, 57.6% of people who use Reddit as their primary social platform for COVID-19, stated that they felt their mental health was worse. 19.8% commented that it was the same and 22.6% said that it was better.

We are now spending an average of 53 minutes a day consuming news coverage which mainly revolves around COVID-19. The survey, conducted by streaming media service, flexed, was comprised of a study from 1009 people. Women have increased their news consumption the most, doubling from 27.9 minutes per day pre-pandemic to 53.7 minutes per day, currently.

It is well known that the more we watch news or read it online, the more likely we are to feel worse, however, this seems to be more relevant when news is consumed through social media. 

Individuals who had reported that their mental health had declined since the beginning of the year, watched an average of 73 minutes of online news content every day – according to the study. In stark contrast, those who watched only an hour of news each day, said that they felt their mental health had improved since the beginning of the year.

The most popular platform for news consumption was of course Facebook. 35.8% stated that it was their primary social media source for COVID-19 news. Twitter was the primary news source for 17% and 16.3% said that it was YouTube.

Only 12.4% used Reddit as their primary social source of COVID- 19 news, however what was surprising is that almost 60% of that 12.4% said that their mental health was worse in comparison to 41.6% for Facebook and 43% for Twitter. In regards to YouTube, 32.3% said that their mental health was worse however, 46.6% felt that it was better.

When reading and watching news on the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dealing with challenges such as what is true, what is false, when will things reopen, and what is medically effective against the virus. The setting is also highly politicized and on social media there is much room for disagreement. In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, this disagreement could have life or death consequences, not to mention substantial financial consequences. It is not surprising therefore, that such disagreement and uncertainty makes people online feel both angry and anxious. 

So why was Reddit the worst platform according to the study?   

The platform has been the perfect foundation for active conspiracy theories and its leadership has so far resisted the moderation measures adopted by its competitors, like Twitter. Troubling and misleading posts continue to be spread across Reddit, despite the efforts of some very well-intentioned moderators.

Of course, the challenge lies in judging content for ourselves, in terms of what is true and what is fake, and while it might be fairly easy to disprove the link between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic, other conspiracy theories like those around the origins of the pandemic, the reasons for the lockdown, or the causes of death reported as COVID-19, are much more unclear. 

The problem seems to come from unofficial news being reported by multiple people on one platform. Even with sites such as Facebook and Twitter, news containing misleading and fake information has been taken down, however with Reddit, such news is still rife and unregulated- where it’s seems that anyone and everyone is a journalist. 

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