As school districts, workplaces, and gathering sites across the nation close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, social media groups and comment sections are becoming ground zero for dialogue, whether that be the constructive kind or not. Such conversations are just one way that social media is both offering a window into our collective response to the Coronavirus outbreak, as well as shaping our reaction in the first place, for good and for ill. Of course, social media allows us to keep up with news and facilitate important conversations about COVID-19; however, at the same time, it can allow sensationalism to spread. Lindsay Guion, CEO and Chairman of GUION PARTNERS, deals in technology in his profession every day. While he understands the merits of social media, he is also concerned with its ability to make us more restless about what is to come. With the advice of Guion in tow, it is important to avoid the ways in which the online world can promote panic over the virus. Here are five ways that social media can do just that.

1. Misinformation

Lindsay Guion

For every expert trying to share accurate information, there are thousands of users spreading forms of misinformation, or fake news, as it has become known colloquially. The algorithms that shape what we see on social media typically promote content that garners the most engagement and posts that draw views, get spread the farthest. Researchers say that this model is partially responsible for the spread of misinformation online, since shocking headlines are especially good at getting people’s attention.

2. Bad opinions

Within weeks of the emergence of COVID-19 in China, rumors, conspiracy theories, Instagram likes and fear-mongering about its origin and growth circulated the globe. Some of this social media traffic has been outright racist against Chinese people and Asians in general. Social media is a polarization machine where the loudest voices tend to win, which as Guion reminds us, is obviously not an ideal scenario when you want and need measured discourse.

3. Targeted advertisements

Recently, Facebook announced that the platform has had to tighten up its rules on advertisements that reference Coronavirus. The social network will now ban advertisements that mention that they can promise a cure, or prevent the virus, as well as attempts to create a frenzied sense of urgency.

4. Propagation of panic-buying

Beyond serving as an arena, or community forum, social media is actually changing the way society is perceiving and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. One particular effect of social media that Guion has observed is the fact that humans take cues from other humans and they may be more likely to panic-buy if they see other people posting about their panic-buying.

5. Impact on health

The increased screen time that certainly comes as a direct result of social-isolation can also increase hyperbolic emotions, distractibility, loneliness and sleep deprivation. When this is compounded by fear and anxiety over COVID-19, people’s interaction with social media can become distorted wherein they only see or seek out panic-inducing information and that information becomes over-represented in their mind.

COVID-19 and its reach has catapulted the world a new living dynamic, and as such, it’s certainly not unheard of, or even necessarily a problem for people to be nervous, so long as that anxiety motivates them to prepare, stay safe and they don’t cross into a full-blown panic. If being online causes you to panic to a point that feels unhealthy, consider limiting your time on social media and curating your online experience to achieve a sense of balance and stability