The role of social media in slowing COVID-19: Plugging into social media to help #flattenthecurve

illustration of message blurbs coming from a cell phone

Led by Jude Mikal, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management, this study will examine whether social media can be leveraged to help individuals exchange information, resources, and emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are currently facing an unprecedented need for up-to-the-minute information, expert health recommendations, and support around a stressful and traumatic disease pandemic,” said Mikal. “Unfortunately, social distancing in the form of school, business, and workplace closures have undermined primary spaces for face-to-face social interaction and information exchange. In light of these conditions, a lot of people are turning to online social groups.”

Research has shown that social media can be an optimal way for people to transfer advice, information and resources in response to stressful events. According to Mikal, online social engagement can provide an important sense of continuity when face-to-face routines and social networks are disrupted.

“Features of online communication are really well-suited to healthy engagement that honors recommendations for social distancing. By helping individuals connect socially, social media has the potential to improve our mental health and can help to slow the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging health-promoting behaviors and compliance with health recommendations,” said Mikal.

Mikal will gather data through qualitative interviews, surveys and daily diaries to determine if social media:

  • can be leveraged to share information on health information and government recommendations
  • can provide valuable resources to individuals coping with increased family care obligation
  • can be used to exchange emotional support to combat isolation
  • will be associated with improved mental health outcomes, including: isolation, depression and anxiety
  • will be associated with increased awareness of and compliance with CDC recommendations for social isolation

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.