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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 131-137

Psychology of misinformation and the media: Insights from the COVID-19 pandemic

1 Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru Karnataka, India
2 Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College and Hospital, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysuru, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Debanjan Banerjee
Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, Mysore, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_112_20

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has emerged as a significant and global public health crisis. Besides the rising number of cases and fatalities, the outbreak has also affected economies, employment, and policies alike. As billions are being isolated at their homes to contain the infection, the uncertainty gives rise to mass hysteria and panic. Amid this, there has been a hidden epidemic of “information” that makes COVID-19 stand out as a “digital infodemic” from the earlier outbreaks. Misinformation and fake news are invariable accompaniments to this “information pollution” which can add to the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and agitation and lead to faulty treatments, noncompliance to precautionary measures, prejudice, and stigma. Research shows that distress and panic during pandemics can propagate and promote misinformation in various ways along with increased digital screen time and unhealthy use of technology. In that context, media is considered to be a “double-edged sword” and can either add to the misinformation burden or aid in the awareness and health communication during such a biological crisis. Lessons from past outbreaks portray media, especially social media, as a useful tool to promote health literacy and control the outbreak. This article looks at the impact of information during COVID-19, the psychology behind spread of misinformation, and finally, a balanced view of the role of media in such disasters, proposing ways for its healthy integration into public and social health.

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