By Favour Ogba
People who are frequently exposed to Coronavirus related information on social media are likely to develop a greater measure of fear and risk perception towards the severe acute respiratory disease, a recent study has shown.
The study, however, indicates that such influence would vary along gender, with females tending to exhibit a significantly greater measure of fear and perceived risk towards the disease than their male counterparts.
The research, titled “Social media use and COVID-19 risk perception among Nigerians: The roles of affects, gender and information sources” was published in the May edition of Media Watch, an international journal indexed and abstracted in the world’ leading scholarly database for peer-reviewed literature, Elsevier’s Scopus.
The study was conducted by media and communication researchers at Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka and University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
“Risk perception is critical to public health crises management, and when combined with emotions like fear and anger, it can strongly determine people’s behaviour during the outbreak of serious diseases like COVID-19”, explained the study’s lead author, Joshua Erubami who teaches Mass Communication at DELSU.
The study suggests that increased exposure to social media risk information on COVID-19 may increase public fear and decrease public anger towards the disease with some implications for health crises management efforts.
Erubami said: “Most social media comments on COVID-19 are wrapped in either negative or positive emotions. Our findings clearly show that social media use is directly related to fear of the virus but inversely related to anger towards its outbreak.
“Fear can hamper individuals’ cognitive ability and diminish their tendency to act rationally when exposed to risky situations. Conversely, anger can provide a bulwark against emotional distress, shrink vulnerability feelings and foster positive outcomes through volitional control.
“Women appear to be more apprehensive about the risk of contracting the disease than the male folks. This is quite understandable. Both fear and risk are social and cultural constructs, and previous psychometric analyses have demonstrated strong gender disparities in public perception of societal problems. Generally, women tend to be more emotional than men in safety related issues, and this also extends to the pandemic”.
He observed that the findings imply that public health policy makers and health communication practitioners can no longer afford to trivialise the overriding impact of social media comments, but must take appropriate action to map out public concerns and address them decisively.
“Most times, these online media thrive in the aura of fake news, misinformation and disinformation. This makes it necessary for the relevant health stakeholders to ensure the seamless flow of correct information during public health crises like the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic”, he added.
Favour Ogba is a final student of Mass Communication at Delta State University, Abraka.