What is the Impact of Social Media on Public Health?
By Staff Writer

Social media has impacted people’s daily lives in ways no one ever thought possible. Most people find their way to a social media site at least once a day to find out what’s going on. What no one will disagree on is the fact that sites like Facebook and Twitter have positive and negative impacts on people’s health – positive from trusted public health influencers, and negative from misinformation and conspiracy theories. Studies have shown there is a direct link between public health and social media both in the short- and long-terms. Following is a look at social media and public health communication and how it’s affected people’s lives and their health.

Impact of Social Media on Public Health

Political messages about health epidemics can cause people to ignore or listen to the information given while Instagram models are known to encourage their followers to engage in self-destructive actions to pursue what they perceive as standards of beauty. Social media in public health issues need to be handled with delicacy in order to show people that the science behind the issue is sound and to gently discourage people from following in the footsteps of their favorite social media model. Using a clear and authoritative tone with good explanations behind the reasoning help make social media public health campaigns more effective.

One of the more common issues with social media and public health is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Women and men are seeking plastic surgery to alter their face and body to look more like what they see in an app’s filter or their favorite social media model. The link between advertising and BDD is known, but the impact of social media influencers is not as well-studied. Another issue facing social media in public health is the fact that misinformation is easily spread due to personal bias and lack of desire to self-educate. Public health social media campaigns presented in a variety of mediums and styles can help reach larger audiences and appeal to different demographics in order to spread the message in an effective manner.

Social Media and Public Health Communication

Communication is a crucial part of public health. The impact of social media on public health can’t be underestimated because social media is the modern day equivalent of the game of telephone. One person tells one person something, the second person passes it to a third, and so on and so forth. Information frequently gets distorted and misinformation becomes a reality. Quelling bad information becomes difficult due to the fact that people prefer to view issues through their own filters and perception and don’t always seek out better information. One example comes in the form of images of people gathering in large groups on beaches during the coronavirus outbreak.

These images demonstrate the fact that people were ignoring instructions to not gather in large numbers to reduce the spread of coronavirus. It took local governments shutting down the beaches to stop the gatherings. Meanwhile, voices decrying the lack of common sense on display were very present on social media sites. These voices can influence people to engage in taking care of their health and that of others due to the power of “liking” a post and the power of numbers. The more people that point out the fact that ignoring public health edicts is a dangerous activity, the more people listen and take steps to change their behavior. Social media public health campaigns can go a long way towards reducing the amount of health misinformation that circulates through social media sites.

Using Social Media Platforms to Amplify Public Health Messages

Social media and public health issues have become inextricably linked as people around the world use social media to get the “inside scoop” from official social media platforms and to learn what their family and friends are saying about a current health issue. Reputable and respected health publications, institutions, and individuals can take advantage of social media sites and use them for public health social media campaigns. Maintaining a steady and unwavering message helps reinforce the link between public health and social media and gives authority to the entity or individual who’s engaging in a public health marketing campaign delivered through social media.

Health authorities aren’t the only ones who are using social media platforms to amplify public health messages. Many people take a stand on social media sites against negative and anti-social behaviors that cause health issues for society as a whole. These users won’t back down from their stance which then gains attention from other like-minded users. Posts are shared, seen by other users, spread into more feeds, etc., and amplify a single message into a broadcast that catches the attention of thousands, even millions of people.

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