Public health strategies for addressing the (social media) pandemic

By Dennis Archambault

Social media is an essential tool in modern public health practice. It can also be a disease.

Information anxiety is a commonly used informal descriptor for someone feeling overwhelmed, confused, and possibly depressed by the oppressive nature of negative news, or just the rapid-fire information age that we live in. The antidote, oversimplified perhaps, is limit your consumption to information.

Now, Ephrat Livni, a social media commentator, has drawn from public health terminology to define the anxiety of social media as a “pandemic”  ( He quotes British futurist Richard Watson as saying we are experiencing an “information pandemic, overwhelmed with hastily compiled, badly sourced, and unverified data.” The swirl of misinformation is creating a psychological and emotional malaise that like the current coronavirus pandemic is affecting individuals and populations in various ways, from political and social chaos to confusion about COVID-19 and public health strategies to contain it. He cleverly and appropriately pushes the metaphor, recommending that we take action to “flatten the curve” and promote well-being. “For the greater good, consider social media distancing. With collective action, we can quell the first postmodern pandemic.”

Livni says that what’s required is structural, systemic change. Social distancing and limiting personal “doomscrolling” minimizes our risk for becoming overwhelmed, but the greater population health issue will require collective impact. Don’t look to the tech companies for leadership. Individual action by way of limiting exposure and limiting engagement will ultimately lead companies to “disinfect their systems”.

And if he hasn’t pushed the public health metaphor too far already, Livni offers one more suggestion to individual users: Take time to “rinse off the muck of opinions and feelings that we wallow in online, and refresh with a good book, a conversation, or a piece of art”.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.