Communities and Social Media

Social media facilitated an excess of panic and terror in Australia towards COVID-19

It’s no secret that social media has rooted itself deep into many people’s everyday lives. We depend on it for news, communication and information. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was a natural progression for social media to become the prime source of communication for many people around the world. During the pandemic, Australia, specifically, was lucky to be on the lighter end of the inflicted countries. But that didn’t stop panic and terror to breed in our society. While the virus was obviously an event to be worried and cautious of, social media facilitated an excess of panic and terror in Australia towards COVID-19. While countries like the USA had a much more severe pandemic experience than Australia. Them being one of the most influential countries of the world meant that social media was flooded with USA based experiences and stories, making COVID seem much worse than it realistically was for Australia. In addition to this, journalism sites utilised the event to clickbait fake and misleading news articles to spread social media to generate revenue, which also facilitated unnecessary terror and panic in Australian audiences. Social media has also created persistent-pervasive communities (Hampton, 2016) which meant there was a much larger group of people we felt connected to through as a result of social media. These people posting their unusual and scary experiences during COVID times, influenced panic through the perceived proximity of the community that social media has created.

The widespread use of social media creates a base for sharing information worldwide. On the predominantly English-speaking side of the internet, information about the USA seems to be everywhere. My personal knowledge of US politics may be more than my knowledge of Australian purely because of how saturated the social media I use is of American issues. While it makes sense as the US has been a leader in economic power for a long time, the influence America has on other countries through just social media becomes worrying. During the height of COVID-19, America had a particularly bad experience, especially when comparing to Australia. Naturally, as it was a predominant issue for everyone, social media was flooded with information through photos, videos and other posts showcasing how bad COVID was. During this time, I saw countless posts about new cases, death counts, conspiracies and other information, through social media, it appeared as if America was collapsing. Australians on social media seeing this narrative over social media would of course become panicked and fearful of COVID, overly so, considering we would be relatively safe as long as we followed guidelines.

Seeing as the goal of social media is maximising the time an individual spends using it, there’s no surprise that it would’ve pushed posts about COVID to the top of our feeds, which pushed the idea that the virus was much more terrifying than it truly was. Of course, COVID-19 was something to be hyperaware and careful about, but social media became a cycle of fear. During periods of isolation, social media naturally was the place to go for communication. Sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter collected worldwide panic and the more one saw about COVID, the more fearful they would become, the more they’d interact with such posts, causing the algorithm to suggest more, confirming the user’s belief of COVID being terrifying and panic inducing. In relation to the cycle I explained, Ciarán Mc Mahon states “these processes not only increase the acceptance of claims that feel increasingly familiar and compatible with what else one knows but also foster a high sense of expertise and confidence.” Social media catering to our interests can quickly descend into a bubble of confirmation bias in which we seek out what we already believe in, being that COVID-19 is something to panic and be terrified about.

Social media is everywhere, and the influence it has on us is proportionate. The experiences of the USA during COVID-19 were plastered all over sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which bred panic and terror through Australians watching it all unfold. Moreover, social media was never on the users’ side, algorithms aiming to keep us online show more of what we interact with. Individuals scared of COVID may constantly be on the lookout for information of outbreaks and such, resulting in being shown more similar information, leading to a sense of confirmation where they constantly see posts that support their exaggerated idea of COVID-19 being terrifying and worth panicking about.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have a portion of their sites dedicated to news, which allows easy access for users to trending news. The ease of access not only encourages users to engage in news, but on places like Facebook, where your feed directly shows you posts from pages you haven’t followed, users find themselves absorbing news without ever searching for it. Boczkowski et. al (2018) interviewed social media users to research their experience with ‘incidental news’ and stated, “many interviewees say they regularly consume news as a by-product of their constant use of social media platforms on their smartphones.” Even if one doesn’t actively look out for news, through the power of social media, it will still find you. News outlets have taken advantage of this rampant spread of news online through the development of fake news. In recent years, the term has risen in popularity. It refers to journalism that is misleading or untrue and is often created with the intent of drumming up attention for said news outlet. The rise of this phenomenon is partly the due to the nature of the internet, where having visits to a website contribute to its profit through ad revenue. As such, news articles only need an eye-catching headline and thumbnail to lure individuals in. Due to this, a higher portion of journalism companies have taken to farming ‘clicks’ with seemingly minimal concern for truth. With this established, it would make sense for them to take advantage of social media and COVID-19. What better way to grab someone’s attention than creating fear and panic? An article from Sky News headlines “A COVID-19 outbreak could ‘overwhelm us very quickly’” using quotations from an assumedly qualified person. Upon further investigation, the full quotation is from an editor of Herald Sun, who said “COVID-19 is going to overwhelm us very quickly if what is happening overseas is replicated here.” The headline omits certain information which results in an illusion of higher urgency and danger. In reality, an unqualified journalist essentially stated that if Australia had the same growth in cases as the US, we would be in trouble. This article obviously takes advantage of the pandemic to trigger panic in audiences by exaggerating and selectively choosing information to show viewers. And if they engage with the article, liking or clicking it, that said social media will learn to show more to that particular user. This creates a feed that pushes the narrative of COVID-19 being terrifying and worth panicking about to the user. Facebook in particular has been seen to create bubbles of confirmation bias through The Wall Street Journal’s “Blue Feed/Red Feed” website, which shows the different articles Facebook chose to show liberals and conservatives which supported their ideologies and narratives for or against certain presidents.

Social media during the height of COVID-19 became the main way of communication and news for many individuals. Journalism companies, seeing this as an opportunity for profit began to create misleading and sometimes fake articles. Users on social media often incidentally see news through their normal usage of platforms. Using this, news companies bred unneeded panic and terror through fake and misleading COVID-19 related news on social media.

While I previously commented on the influence that other countries had on Australians through social media, I didn’t explore the influence that communities very close to us have. At least not to as much depth. Keith N. Hampton (2016) has dubbed ‘persistent contact’ and ‘pervasive awareness’ as results of the effects that evolved communication technologies. His belief is that widespread access to online places like social media has allowed us to maintain connections to a much larger group of people despite a lack of direct communication.

Persistent contact is seen when an individual posts on Instagram expecting it to appear on their follower’s feeds, a person-to-network connection, instead of a person-to-person connection via directly sending that image to each individual following them. Hampton states this persistent contact through posting on social media works by “sustaining contact without substantively drawing from the time and resources required to maintain ties through other channels of communication.”

While pervasive awareness describes the information we gather on other people without social presence, new interests, relationships, places they’ve been. Pervasive awareness is an explanation to knowing that Harriet you haven’t seen for two years somehow owns a boat and went to Rottnest with Ella, Sophie and Emma over Easter break. Hampton further explains “pervasive awareness is an outcome of person-to-network communication and low, social presence that typify such contact.”

Being in a persistent-pervasive community makes one feel connected to many more people despite the lack of typical contact, and as such, we may feel more influence through the web of people we keep in contact with. Social media has for certain been a large catalyst in creating persistent-pervasive communities and within the context of COVID-19, has facilitated an excess of panic and terror in Australia. Social media has become a place that individuals tend to post extremes to, when they’re experiencing something particularly good, or perhaps an event that’s particularly irritating or unusual. In relation to COVID-19 this resulted in images or videos of usually busy roads I’ve personally travelled down that were empty, or shopping centres I frequented being overrun by customers. This imagery was much more terrifying than any image of a US equivalent. Because of the persistent-pervasive community that social media has brought me into, I feel a deeper influence from these posts due to the proximity of these individuals I maintain contact with. The COVID virus being an already scary event caused many to post their negative feelings and experiences which, as explained, due to the nature of persistent-pervasive communities was shared to many more people than it would’ve without social media. Not only that, during isolation, social media was the first and foremost place to go to be able to stay connected with people which made any and all panic so much more dominant in our day-to-day life. Hampton’s writings on persistent-pervasive communities gives an explanation to how social media has facilitated an excess of panic and terror in Australia towards COVID-19. The connections we feel to the people we follow on social media, though weaker than traditional relationships, are more easily maintained and thus means that we’ll develop a larger pool of people we stay in contact with. Due to this, the influx of posts we witnessed during the height of COVID-19 from that community was so much more influential since we had a connection, unlike the influence from US media. The fear and panic that we saw on social media felt much closer, encouraging us to feel the same way, which wouldn’t have been as strong without that access to the online world.

During the height of COVID-19 in Australia, social media created a much higher sense of panic and terror in users than was realistically necessary. Online influence from countries such as the USA, inflicted with a much worse COVID experience than Australia, flooded our social media making it seem much worse than it truly was in our side of the world. Fake and misleading news articles were shared around through social media which made the virus out to be much worse than it was in reality. And because of the nature of social media, where it created persistent-pervasive communities, Australians seeing other Australians experiencing panic and terror through their social media encouraged further panic due to the proximity of knowing those people. Hopefully, as COVID-19 eases up around the world, users of social media can reflect and see how influential social media can be in a bad way.


Hampton, K. N. (2016). Persistent and Pervasive Community: New Communication Technologies and

the Future of Community. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(1), 101–124.

Hampton, K. N., & Wellman, B. (2018). Lost and Saved . . . Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of

Community Takes Hold of Social Media. Contemporary Sociology, 47(6), 643–651.

Boczkowski, P. J., Mitchelstein, E., & Matassi, M. (2018). “News comes across when I’m in a moment

of leisure”: Understanding the practices of incidental news consumption on social media. New Media & Society, 20(10), 3523–3539.

Mc Mahon, C. (2020). Psychological Insights for Understanding COVID-19 and Media and

Technology (1st ed.). Routledge.

Sharon J. McLennan (2016) Techno-optimism or Information Imperialism: Paradoxes

in Online Networking, Social Media and Development. Information Technology for Development, 22:3, 380-399.

(2020, March 9). A COVID-19 outbreak could ‘overwhelm us very quickly’. Skynews.

42 thoughts on “Social media facilitated an excess of panic and terror in Australia towards COVID-19

  1. Hi Clarissa,

    This was such a fascinating article to read as I’ve pretty much experienced all the excess “panic” you mentioned that we all had to go through during this pandemic. Especially with how u mentioned “images or videos of usually busy roads I’ve personally travelled down that were empty, or shopping centers I frequented being overrun by customers. This imagery was much more terrifying than any image of a US equivalent”, it made me remember the videos that people were posting all over social media of: empty shelves at supermarkets, people “flaunting” their emergency pantry and even as ridiculous as people fighting over toilet paper rolls!

    Along with the fake and misleading news that was getting out of hand. Originally coming from Indonesia myself, there was just so much hoax being broadcasted amongst Indonesians that are absurdly untrue, people actually tried promoting medicines that could “cure” COVID19 during the early stages of the pandemic, and virus shut out necklaces where they claim it could kill viruses within a parameter just from wearing it on your neck. And to my surprise, lots of my Indonesian families and friends believed it and even purchased some for themselves!

    My question to you is, have you ever been in the same situation as I am? How do you protect your friends/families from fake news? (especially explaining it to ones who are not the most tech-savy)

    2020 has definitely been a rough year for all of us but I’m glad Perth is stabilizing better this year 🙂

    Have a good day ahead of you!

    The article I’ve attached is the Virus Shut-Out necklaces I’ve mentioned if you are interested into seeing how absurd their claims are:

  2. Hey Clarissa,

    Awesome read! I agree with many points that you raised and think that part of the reason such panic was created was because everyone was looking for answers, and everyone was stuck in the unknown! Someone would share something that they thought was factual online and before you knew it, an audience would have already reposted and shared it. Do you think that the ‘over reaction’ could have at all been a good thing, especially seeing images of how bad things did get in America? Do you think that if we took a more calm approach that Australia would be in the same situation that we are in today or do you think that we would have been like America with 10% of our population with the disease?

    Thanks again, and all the best 🙂


  3. Hi Clarissa!

    Well done on your paper it was quite the read! All of your arguments are well supported and researched you should be very proud.

    In particular your section about fake news intrigues me as it was a topic that I touched on my self in my paper. Do you think that there will ever be a way that we will be able to hold corporations or individuals accountable for intentionally posting content that is fake with malicious intent? A way to regulate and control what is posted online to avoid issues like this would be fantastic but unfortunately at this time I feel it is something that is out of our reach.

    Would love to hear your thoughts,

    Regards, Jacob.

  4. Hi Clarissa,

    Thank you for the interesting and well-written read! I definitely agree that social media is directly linked to the uproar and panic at the start of the pandemic, as well as some pretty odd behaviour. Whilst working in a cafe two young male customers came in wearing masks (keep in mind this is last year before we had any community transmission in WA and no one had worn masks). To make matters worse they were wearing them under their chins—when I asked why they were wearing them at all, they simply replied “because the Americans are”.

    Now, with India’s suffering made apparent on social media, we see a completely different reaction. It seems to be a conflicted outpouring of hope and sorrow combined with “Australia-first” messages with thinly-veiled racist undertones. The scenes from India have been shocking, and have really raised attention to the government’s shortcomings in managing the second wave of the pandemic. Do you think that without social media we would have such an understanding of the scale of suffering in India? And why have we not had the same wacky, over-the-top reaction as when the US was suffering, despite the prevalence of Indian content on social media?

    Thank you again for your wonderful paper,

  5. Hi Clarissa,
    A nicely written paper! You had a great use of wording and references along with an interesting topic which made your paper easy to read 🙂 I’ve often found myself wondering in recent years – why do Americans think they’re the only people in the world? I especially like when you stated “… how saturated the social media use is of American issues,” which I often ponder upon. As an avid social media user, I often see a lot of American user’s and content shown through my Instagram and TikTok algorithms. I hardly ever see user’s or content from other parts of the world, and hardly any from Perth! However, this may be subject to my own algorithm of liking standard ‘Americanised’ content across these social platforms. It seems as if social media is taking over how we perceive the world. We are constantly shoved information down our throats, sometimes without even realising it, that is changing the way how we see the world. I remember when the second lockdown came in Perth, I thought the world was ending the way people were reacting in the shops, all over a 5 day lockdown! Despite Facebook establishing a misinformation policy to limit the spread of fake news (2021) I feel as if perhaps there should be a limit on how much content we see from other countries that can perhaps change our social views in our own current context. Would you agree?

    Please consider reading up on my paper titled “How the ‘misconception of perfection’ by Instagram Influencers encourages impressionable followers to purchase endorsed products that contribute to idolised body standards.” I talk about how Influencers must create a plastic perception of themselves in order to gain brand sponsorships and endorsements. However, they are setting a negative example for impressionable followers who then develop self-image issues regarding who they admire online.

    Facebook. 2021. Working to Stop Misinformation and False News.

  6. Hi Clarissa,

    Your paper was interesting to read and it went into depth on how do people use social media in times of Covid 19. Covid 19 is the latest virus that grabbed social media attention. Its not the first time there has been viruses but in the past Australia was lucky to escape the virus and that other countries that were affected managed to contain and eradicate the virus.

    I agree that social media in a way has facilitated the panic of Covid 19. I definitely agree that most of the panic came through the misinformation from others that resulted in this and that most of the information that came through were from people who were not medical professionals. Though in this case no one really knew anything about this virus until later. Now I see there is a lot of misinformation from people about the Covid 19 vaccine on social media and what surprises me is that I have no idea where this information is coming from. I do find that people research information online to help them understand more about the virus but maybe they think since they have researched they are experts?

    I am guilty of researching about the virus when Australia was told but at times some of the information did not make sense and instead I will turn to medical professionals.

    I agree with your point that the social media uses algorithm to give you more information about the virus but what is interesting is that Facebook for example on really gave information about America. I do not know if this due to that Facebook is an American app and that is why they have more information about the virus in America?

    Recently, whenever I opened up Facebook at the top of the page it will ask me if I want to learn more about the Covid 19 and how to prevent it. I am hesitant to click on any messages like that purely due to that I might get spammed on misinforamation.

    Do you think there is a way for social media to stop people from allowing posts with misinformation being shared around? I think while social media can do as much as they can , they cannot stop this from happening as there are thousands of posts being created everyday and this will consist of a lot of manpower as well creating a system/tool to eradicate it completely.

    Chou et al (2018) article discussed about developing and testing interventions to stop health related misinformation. It said if the public can be taught health literacy. To me this will be interesting to know as this will allow people to find the actual facts about a health issue from all the misinformation.

    Any thoughts?

    Great paper.


    Chou, W.-Y. S., Oh, A., & Klein, W. M. P. (2018). Addressing Health-Related Misinformation on Social Media. JAMA, 320(23), 2417.

  7. I really enjoyed this paper! It’s well-written and addresses a variety of points and ideas I would not have personally connected with the covid-19 pandemic. I especially liked the discussion on pervasive awareness as I’ve been obsessed with the phenomenon of para-social relationships on social media platforms. I also liked the discussion on algorithm bias and how our news feeds often create a bubble in which we get fed information that only plays into our confirmation bias.

    However, as other commentators have bought up, I think that we tend to forget how dire the Covid situation is as we watch from Australia. Even in Australia, hospitals have been overwhelmed, countless have died, and many Australian citizens haven’t been able to see their loved ones who live internationally or interstate. However, I do agree that social media tends to create echo chambers that can lead to fear-mongering and mass hysteria. I could see this happening in many aspects of the pandemic such as panic buying and the racial targeting of Asian Australians. And while I do think that there has been misinformation perpetuated in the media about covid, I also think it is dangerous to dismiss almost every news outlet’s coverage of the pandemic as fear-mongering and biased.

    Regardless, I still found the paper really interesting and agreed with many points!

  8. Hi Clarissa,

    A great paper you captured the fear of the pandemic online perfectly, through reading your paper I started to reflect my own experience of using social media during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and how the anxiety of going online riddled me for months. The situational references in your paper reflects my own experience, the online world seemed plagued with disappear and misinformation. Often I found myself experiencing anxiety attacks every time I opened Instagram because the volume of information regarding Covid was enveloping. To expand on your points it would be interesting if we see further studies in the ways in which the pandemic has affected the elements of our communities and emotional wellbeing. Due to immense fear that rippled across the world will researchers find in years to come an increase in patients with prescribed anxiety catalysed by the pandemic? or the forms of post traumatic stress arise, hypothetically online media outlets using the words “Covid” and “Pandemic” lead to some readers having traumatic episodes. Although I note these ideas seem far fetched it is intriguing to think about how these unprecedented times will affect us in the future.

    The study by Özdin & Bayrak Özdin (2020) would be a great addition to your conference paper and the discussion due to being a physiological analysis of the impact of Covid-19 and its correlation between the increase of depression and anxiety. The journal found that women had one of the highest instances of experiencing depression and anxiety during the pandemic (Özdin & Bayrak Özdin, 2020).

    Özdin, S., & Bayrak Özdin, Ş. (2020). Levels and predictors of anxiety, depression and health anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic in Turkish society: The importance of gender. International Journal Of Social Psychiatry, 66(5), 504-511. doi: 10.1177/0020764020927051

  9. Hi Clarissa!

    Your paper was so interesting and pertinent!

    I immediately was reminded of the huge amount of panic buying that happened all around Australia after the Covid-19 pandemic was considered a real threat to lives in this country.
    According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
    “Panic buying is defined as when consumers purchase an exceptionally large amount of products in the anticipation of a shortage. We have not seen panic buying behaviour to this extent in previous disease outbreaks”(2021. p. 1127).
    Social media was a huge factor in the way that peoples behaviours changed and became frantic. Facebook I think, was one of the more present platforms that emerged within the panic buying issues. People were sharing and posting pictures of people panic buying specific items such as toilet roll, which in hindsight, is not the most essential item you would think people would need. This has all to do with the way in which we follow the crowd and are conditioned to believe what social media tells us is important and not important.
    I think that the topic of fake news was extremely revised when the covid-19 pandemic emerged. People were able to understand how news and information should be delivered and taken correctly.

    Hope you have a great day



    Anxiety and panic buying behaviour during COVID-19 Pandemic—A qualitative analysis of toilet paper hoarding contents on twitter. (2021). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(3), 1127. doi:

  10. Hi Clarissa

    I really enjoyed your article and it was beautifully written so well done with that 🙂

    I 100% agree and I am guilty for using Facebook and Instagram for how I get my news on a daily basis and I agree that I did use social media a lot more over the lock-down and pandemic. I used it more for a few reasons 1. because it was the easiest and fastest way to keep up to date with everything. 2. It was just so easy and a bug habit to have social media open on my phone and laptop at home for news compared to when I’m at work.

    Thank for the great read, great job Clarissa!

    Georgia Wiley :))

  11. Hello Clarissa,
    I found your paper interesting on how social media created higher sense of panic of COVID-19. I understand how social media have been an issue on how it portrait other people expression. this can lead into some misunderstanding of the whole situation. but in other aspect, social media also covering us from reality and distract us from the bad thing that happens. is it possible that the social media need to be filter for people who use them in daily basis or people need to have more consciousness on how to use social media?

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your conference paper. It’s fascinating how online community are form when you are seeking on your career path. If you have time, you can visit my conference paper. I hope it found your interest.

    Best Regards
    Christopher Benson

  12. Hi Clarrisa! Great article, I got your points and it is relatable that nowadays people uploading content on social media just to make the mentality of people worst in regards to the COVID 19 Pandemic.

    In the other hand, the presence of social media does possess a good advantage, like for instance the recently lockdown announced in Australia due to a group of people affected by COVID 19, without social media people wouldn’t know and aware anything about COVID 19 News and maybe still do their activities, going out without knowing that there are these group of people that’s infected with COVID 19 and will lead to a bad outcome ( increased number of people affected by COVID 19). What are your comment about that?

  13. Hello Clarissa

    An interesting read! We have actually become so dependent on news feed on social media, it can sometimes cause alarm and panic, like you mentioned. Social media has given people access to news and information from around the world in no time. Sometimes news pieces do not affect a certain country, but it creates panic among people in general, Covid-19 pandemic coverage being one of them. Covid-19 pandemic did not affect Australia as much as it affected other countries but its awareness is important through the right media platforms so people are aware and can take precautionary measures. In addition, social media platforms sometimes showcase the real picture of what is happening without politically biased media houses filtering information. Communicating and distributing information bypassing gatekeeping and intervention of traditional journalism without having to follow the filtered information promoted by journalists is facilitated by social media.
    What are your thoughts?

    Would love to hear your thoughts on my paper.

    Thank you

  14. Hi Clarissa,

    I was hooked by the title of your article! I think you’re chosen a very interesting topic by talking about how social media has facilitated excess panic towards COVID-19 in Australia, and a very topical one too! I definitely agree with you in saying that social media has increased panic through online communities. The online environment has supported new types of communication between people that was not previously possible before; people can now have conversations that transcend geographical and temporal barriers. This has allowed more people to interact and broadcast their ideas and opinions; however, I think this has also been detrimental by increasing panic. These new communication pathways mean that people are exposed to more bad stories, which makes them feel highly alarmed.

    Yet, at the same time, I think that communication during COVID-19 was important to provide support and make people calmer. Personally, I also saw a lot of positive and reassuring content online that made me feel better about the situation. For example, TikTok was particularly good at producing light-hearted videos to make the COVID-19 situation appear less serious (Delhi, 2020) – a stark contrast to the panic on some other social media threads! Do you agree with this that some platforms were useful at alleviating panic?

    I particular liked how you talked about how algorithms can amplify panic. Because negative content like scary experiences are more spreadable and clickable, algorithms definitely pick up on this and increase panic by promoting this content. From my experience online, it definitely seemed like the worst stories were the ones that surfaced, despite probably many other stories being available. And because the negative stories were the ones that surfaced, this gave the false impression that there were more negative experiences than what was actually the case. I wonder, do you think that some platforms were worse than others at creating excess panic?

    Thanks so much for sharing this article, it was a great read!

    If you have time, please check out my paper on Instagram and feminism! Here’s the link:

    Delhi, Ni. (2020, March 15). COVID-19 attack: Humorous memes, jokes relieve stress in tough corona times. Hindustan Times.

  15. Hi Clarissa,

    I rather enjoyed your article and it definitely caused me to consider the types of new content I engage with on social media.

    I loved your point about ‘farming clicks’ and how the journalists doing this have little concern for sharing true information. This brought up thoughts of clickbait and that concept that is suggested in the documentary The Social Dillema (McDavid, J. (2020). The Social Dilemma. Journal of Religion and Film, 24(1), COV41+) that our attention is the product being consumed by advertisers via social media.

    Thanks for the thought provoking read!

  16. Hi Clarissa,

    I really enjoyed reading your opinion on this topic.
    You raised a good point in saying that our newsfeed is so saturated with American news, that it has such an influence on the level of concern we experienced here in Australia. I definitely clicked on many articles with scary headlines outlining numbers of deaths due to Covid, and it was only until I clicked on the link and was redirected to the main article, that I realised this wasn’t happening in Australia.
    I think these big headlines have a effect on the level of hysteria and panic we experienced here in Australia, as it increased our worry on what could potentially happen. They definitely draw people in and gain attention quickly by writing misleading headlines. I don’t think it’s right to take advantage of the situation and cause further panic, in aim to increase page visits and clicks.

  17. Hi Clarissa, you raise some interesting points in your paper, however I feel that we put too much blame on social media for poor human behaviour. Similar to my paper, in which I discuss the Facebook news ban ( your paper highlights how dependent we have become on social media to provide news, communication and connection within our communities.
    I believe it is up to each individual to critically examine and question what we are hearing in the news. During COVID I got my information direct from the Gvt websites, as I found the news to be too alarmist. Depending on which publication you read, the angle will be different too, providing a different view of the news. Also, I have never relied on Facebook (or any social media platform) to provide my news so I didn’t really experience the sense of wider panic and conspiracy theories that other people may have been experiencing through social media.
    Although I agree with some of the other comments here; in this case I think a bit of panic was warranted during the start of the pandemic in order for people to understand just how serious and dire the situation was.
    – Michelle

    During the height of COVID-19 in Australia, social media created a much higher sense of panic and terror in users than was realistically necessary. Online influence from countries such as the USA, inflicted with a much worse COVID experience than Australia, flooded our social media making it seem much worse than it truly was in our side of the world. Fake and misleading news articles were shared around through social media which made the virus out to be much worse than it was in reality. And because of the nature of social media, where it created persistent-pervasive communities, Australians seeing other Australians experiencing panic and terror through their social media encouraged further panic due to the proximity of knowing those people. Hopefully, as COVID-19 eases up around the world, users of social media can reflect and see how influential social media can be in a bad way.

  18. Hi Clarissa,
    I enjoyed reading your paper it is very though evoking.
    Sometimes Clarissa, and this is not your doing, but l struggle to understand the true importance of social media. Maybe l am just a little old fashioned, but l only see social media as being beneficial in keeping contact with distant relatives and friends. The last place in the world l am going to turn seeking news is social media, as l struggle to believe half the garbage spoken in our mainstream media formats, but at least they are somewhat accoutable for their reporting. I did my paper on Radicalisation and Social Media and this topic you have written about Clarissa has made me realise that people are capable of saying, reporting and believing anything (which is where radicalisation can stem). During this pandemic, we as a nation have lost many many good people as a result of this pandemic. At stages during this pandemic l felt frustration that we were enabling international flights to enter our borders, l felt frustrated that people showed less than any respect for the seriousness and reality of this covid situation. I hate to think that people behaved this way due to a comparative between the US situation as compared with our own, or for that matter, information that has been sourced from social media. At the start of this unit we talked in detail about online communities and networks. I am slowly coming to terms with academics calling online groups – communities. But this paper genuinely takes me back to the reason l don’t believe in the value of the word “community” being flouted with in an online context. We seem lose the shape of realistic thought online or seem to be influenced easier. Our neighbours become virtual numbers with virtual letterboxes. Our worries and our kindness is evaporated through voices that can’t be heard, while the voices that can be heard are left to suffer due to a world that lives in a space that was onced described as “another state of consciousness”. We might as well be on drugs! The reality is that we have loved ones, friends and people within our communities that want to see kept safe, so for people to udermine the torment and pain (due to an online comparative with the US) of what some people have had to suffer through during this pandemic shows exactly where our heads are at – in the clouds like the rest of the information about our lives – People that live on social media to the point that it obscures their judgement… open your nearest window and smell the fresh air, there is still a world to live in.
    This is a great topic Clarissa. Thankyou

    1. Hi Nathan, I completely agree with you regarding your use of social media. I am the same – I see FB as a convenient way to share photos with overseas relatives and nothing more. I certainly wouldn’t rely on this (or any other social media platform) as a source of valuable trustworthy news information!
      I wrote my paper on this subject – focusing on the Facebook news ban that happened in Australia at the start of this year, if you are interested in reading more about this topic:
      When the news ban happened, I was astounded at people’s response. In my mind, it really had no affect on my life whatsoever. But there were people who were genuinely outraged that they couldn’t get their news from FB for a couple of day, and I really don’t understand it. Of course, I understand the frustrations of charities and organisations who relied on FB to run their businesses – which again highlights a problem we have in society when we refer to a virtual platform (that we have no control over) as a ‘community’.

  19. Hi Clarissa,

    Thank you for producing such an interesting yet controversial paper! I do agree with many of your points, which I too also covered in my paper. Though I do find that your main idea on the fact that ‘Australians who are panicked and fearful of Covid, overly so, considering we would be relatively safe’ is a complex statement that many would disagree on. Yes, I definitely believe we are one of the safest countries, as we have little covid cases, though the panic and fear that Australians are feeling is relatively normal. Especially when the cases in Melbourne got out of hand, leading to a surge in the need for hospital beds and nurses. Many people are still dying, and I think it is so reasonable for people to be panicked and scared regardless of the fact that we may be in a safe and privileged place or not.

    From my personal experience, I have family members living in London who too contracted the virus, and I remember the feeling of fear and panic I had knowing that my family members needed help and there was nothing I could do. My panic put me in a state, causing me to put myself in lockdown, as I was so scared thinking I’d to contract it full well knowing I was in one of the safest countries. Though I do agree with you on the fact that social media was and still is saturated with US media causing me to question what I can and can’t believe which further added to my stress and panic.

    All in all, I agree with the fact that without social media the fear and panic may not have spread so quickly and vastly.

    Thank you for providing your insights on such a prominent topic!

  20. I enjoyed your style of writing Clarissa and you raised some very important points.

    It certainly is a very complex topic but undoubtedly we can affirm that for better or worse, our collective perception, and thus behaviour, is now largely influenced by algorithms designed to capture and maintain our attention, whatever the verasity of the content.

    Perhaps a paragraph about viewpoint-based censorship across social media could have strengthened your essay, in demonstrating how certain narratives can be controlled.

    Your paragraphs about persistant pervasive community were very interesting ad I´m sure an entire essay could be written just about that.

  21. Hey, Clarrissa.

    Thanks for contributing. This is an interesting paper with a lot of topical relevance. And I agree with quite a few of it’s points – media cycles and monetisation, how social media shares tend towards more extreme and uncommon views, pushing those more and more.

    “Australians on social media seeing this narrative over social media would of course become panicked and fearful of COVID, overly so, considering we would be relatively safe as long as we followed guidelines.”
    I feel that this sentence is, in many ways, the crux of the argument. Would people actually follow regulations if the chief health officer had a single hour long press conference? I don’t think so. I never saw any of those first hand, and despite being quite regular. It was the repeated media cycle and my communication with friends and family that gave me faster, more immediate understanding of the situation, and honestly, I’m still not 100% certain, largely in part of the people around me.

    Personal experience: Recently, I had to use public transport. I was pretty sure that I had to wear a face mask – something mostly remembered from checking the official site. But the number of passengers wearing a face mask was less than a third, and no one insisted on it, and I didn’t even see a sign saying you had to. This caused me to doubt the situation. Was I not remembering correctly? Did the rules change?

    They did not, it’s just that most people are not following, don’t care, or have misunderstood the lack of lockdown as assuming there is no requirement.

    By a Neuroscience professor:
    Interviews with people “You make decisions and you take risks” :

    And that’s without even touching on active denial of the situation.

    I feel the fundamental issue is that we may not be able to have people both follow the rules *and* not induce some people to fear.

  22. Hello Clarissa, and thank you for your thought provoking conference paper. I find “fake news” a tricky term these days, as it has been weaponized (by Donald Trump in particular) to discredit any news that someone does not like. Rochlin (2017) noted in his article here: that

    “ ’Fake news’ no longer means factless or slanderous news, but rather news that is seen to attack a person’s pre-existing beliefs.” (p. 386)

    However, I approve of your definition of the term, which shows me that you are talking about “real fake news” (Rochlin, 2017). Obviously, not all news outlets publish fake news. Much of it is produced by entrepreneurs solely seeking to profit from advertising in the manner you detail, resulting in some traditional news media companies committing resources to fight fake news (Rochlin, 2017). I feel you should have guarded against such a generalisation by including “some” before your sentence “News outlets have taken advantage of…” and again before “Journalism companies, seeing this as an opportunity…”. Do you agree not all news outlets and journalists purposefully publish fake news for profit?

    I would like to share a (now prescient) quote from one of my favourite papers (Lewandowsky et al., 2017):

    “Imagine a world in which it is not medical knowledge but a free-for-all opinion market on Twitter that determines whether a newly emergent strain of avian flu is really contagious to humans.” (p. 353).

    I believe that social media did inspire excessive panic about COVID-19 within Australia. When people first started “panic buying” groceries in Australia, images, and footage from within our country were shared on SNSs, extending the panic, and increasing the number of people panic buying. If COVID-19 was already present within our community, this could have had a seriously negative result, instead of just temporarily inconveniencing those of us who did not panic buy. Do you think this is a good example of the effect of the persistent-pervasive community on social media that you talk about (Hampton, 2016)?

    On the other hand, we have been extremely lucky to be so little affected by COVID-19 in Australia. Certainly, the actions of our State and Federal governments have minimised the effects of COVID-19 and (so far) prevented the widespread community transmission experienced in so many places overseas. Government actions and restrictions have only been effective due to the (mostly) voluntary participation of Australians. The real dangers of COVID-19 shared globally by mainstream news outlets and social media encouraged Australians to be wary and take sensible precautions, supporting government efforts. In this way, our SNSs have potentially saved many lives. I would have liked to see you represent this alternative view in your paper, even if it were just to discount it. In closing, I agree with Amanda Druck’s comment – COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation which pushes conspiracy theories about a “plandemic” and discourages vaccinations are now the real threat.

    1. Hi Karena,

      Thank you very much for the comment and feedback!

      Your words are very comprehensive and to respond to your questions, I definitely should be more wary of sweeping statements, it would’ve been more accurate to include ‘some’ or ‘not all’ in those places you mentioned.

      Your statement about panic buying definitely aligns with my thoughts and I would have to say that yes, it is a good example of the effect of persistant-pervasive communities. Social media was a major tool in sharing the ‘panic buying’ phenomenon. This being shown on nationwide TV caused exponential growth in fear of your local grocery stores running out of toilet paper.

      In regards to your last paragraph, I completely agree. Conspiracy theorists have always been around on the internet, but mostly seemed to stay in their own spaces not impacting others… but with COVID-19 we’ve seen how dangerous conspiracy theorists can be to whole countries.

      Once again thanks for the comment

  23. Hey Clarissa,
    What a well-written, informative paper. Well done.
    And it’s interesting because, in my paper, I discuss how social media can reduce panic, fear, and uncertainty by allowing communities to share helpful information and resources in the event of a natural disaster. But in the case of the pandemic, we can see the inverse effect of that.
    The panic often leads to blaming groups, often minorities, as we have seen recently with the massive increase in violence against Asians. And in the case of the pandemic, the fear is exacerbated as people are locked indoors and likely spending ample time on social media, as you mentioned. This panic during lockdown has become inherently cyclical as screen-time increases.
    To support your point, I also agree how concerning it is that Australian media is so saturated with American affairs and politics. And I feel almost ashamed about how limited my knowledge of Australian politics is compared to the circus of US politics. This, as you mention, is an example of how US social media giants like Facebook have an enormous influence over Australians.
    Thank you for the engaging read, as it is well researched and structured.


    1. Hi Rhys,

      Thank you for the comment. That’s really interesting that you wrote your piece on the almost the complete opposite side! Despite that, I’m glad you can still see my side of the story. Social media is a blessing and a curse, as I’m sure we all know, and through extreme situations like COVID-19, we can see each end of the spectrum pretty clearly.

      Thanks again!

  24. Hi CLarissa,
    I am a doctor in Melbourne… the hospital I worked at had 300 staff infected with covid and around 100 patient deaths. We literally had refrigerated trucks for bodies in the carpark as the morgues were full. 10 wards full of Covid patients. An extra ICU. We closed down an entire campus of the hospital which remains closed because people became infected in the hospital as it was so infectious….. Families watched their loved ones die over Zoom.
    Because of the strong actions taken by our (State) governments we were so fortunate to avoid the situation that happened overseas. My colleagues in India now have to watch while people die due to lack of oxygen. I can’t imagine what it’s like. The trauma for patients, families and health providers.
    So I guess I am disagreeing a little that the panic was unwarranted. If we had not panicked and shut down etc, we would have been more like the other countries affected. It was not fake news. Those Melbourne people did die and many people are still dying now and survivors are suffering from Long Covid. ….
    A different perspective!

    1. Hi Sonia and Clarissa,

      Jumping to say I tend to agree with your perspective. I’m an Australian based in the USA – in fact I’m in Seattle, which is where the first US case of COVID was recorded. We’ve been in some form of lockdown since March 2020.

      When I consider the experiences of the last year or so, I do think it’s interesting to compare it to my family back home in a relatively small town in Queensland. For them, COVID is a fairly novel experience and a distant memory, where here in Seattle we’re still wearing masks and many things have only just started opening back up.

      I can see your point about how US dominant media can tend to lead to panic, but I think that stems from a lack of consensus and leadership from governments and official bodies internationally. Here in the US, it felt like the every city and state were receiving different information. Some states were completely closed down, some states were banning masks – all the while cases continued to rise.

      Comparatively, South Korea had one of the most comprehensive contact tracing and testing programs (, and their transmission rate dropped dramatically. It may have appeared alarmist to have launched such a thorough campaign, but it also achieved results.

      I think it will be interesting in the coming years to see the research that is conducted in how countries responded and shared information to their communities, particularly via social media and how that correlated with transmission.

    2. I’m glad to see your perspective on this Sonia, as my initial response to this paper was the same, but your experience adds real weight. Thank you for all you and your colleagues have done, and I’m sorry for what you have experienced.

      I am in Melbourne too, and although our long lockdown was hard for many reasons, it was far from unwarranted. Along with the strong messaging and actions of our state governments (particularly the Western Australian and Victorian governments), I would argue that the ability to easily see the experiences of people in countries where the virus had a bigger impact was one of the biggest reasons we have been so successful here – people saw the alternative and (for the most part) paid attention. In that way, the “panic” (I would prefer to call it appropriate caution) was well and truly worthwhile, especially compared to the dire long term mental health effects I have seen in some of my American friends who have lived through a far worse scenario.

      I have noticed recently that people at my local shopping centre are becoming as complacent as they did before the second wave, and that has concerned me, especially in light of the recent mystery community cases. I was pleased to see Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton commenting on this in Tuesday’s press conference because it is our biggest threat.

      There certainly has been a lot of fake and misleading news around COVID-19, though, and I would invite Clarissa to read any of the other papers with the COVID-19 tag in this conference, including my own. Each has examples of disinformation that discounts the seriousness of the pandemic, or interferes with vaccination efforts, with potentially catastrophic results. This is the “fake news” that we really have to be vigilant against.

      1. Thanks Amanda!!
        I have to say I didn’t really suffer but my colleagues really did and some are very traumatised. I appreciate your comment!

        1. Hi All,

          I thought I would reply at the back of this discussion because I agree with the above comments about the premise of this paper. While I agree with a section of this paper, the term “doom scrolling” negatively impacted people’s mental health during the heightened periods of COVID-19 here in Australia. The amount of news offered to users’ during this time could potentially be overwhelming.

          The part of the paper I fundamentally disagree with is the bold claims that “unqualified journalists” are responsible for fake news. The constant references to news outlets creating fake news and clickbait are seemingly unfounded and without academic backing? The term fake news is widely used but is complex in its definition. For example, Tandoc, Lim and Ling (2018) propose a structure for conceptualising the various six forms of fake news found, those being news satire, news parody, fabrication, manipulation, advertising, and propaganda. I was unclear during this paper exactly how ‘Australian journalism sites utilised the event to clickbait fake and misleading news articles.’

          Bakir and McStay (2018), who like Clarrisa, take a critical lens of the social media website, Facebook, and its practices to allow fake news’s social and democratically problems to misinformed citizens. They point out the citizen journalists are often responsible for the platform’s filter bubble and confirmation bias that propel fake information rather than established news outlets.

          I would be interested to hear any thoughts on this aspect of the paper.

          Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Zheng Wei Lim & Richard Ling (2018) Defining “Fake News”,
          Digital Journalism, 6:2, 137-153, DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2017.136014

          Vian Bakir & Andrew McStay (2018) Fake News and The Economy of
          Emotions, Digital Journalism, 6:2, 154-175,
          DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2017.1345645

    3. Hi Sonia,

      Thank you for your perspective, it’s valuable to be able to discuss differing points.

      I definitely see your point and somewhat agree with it. The fear spread online was good because, as you’ve said, the effects of COVID are extremely serious and can be traumatic for those involved.
      I suppose my arguement should be more specific about the panic in Australia being warrented, but being so much that it wasn’t helpful to our communities. Social media spreading a narrative of fear is much better than trivialising the situation after all, but I believe that it was to an excess that caused more harm to mental health than needed.

      I apologise if my paper minimised the negative effects of COVID-19, reading the responses from others I’m seeing that I should explore differing opinons when writing to make a more well rounded arguement!

      Thank you again for your comment and thank you for your work against COVID.

  25. Clarissa,
    This is a very on-point topic at the moment. A common theme I have noticed in reviewing papers over the weeks is the detrimental effect social media platform algorithms can have in creating an echo chamber whereby similar content deemed of interest to the user is pushed out to them resulting in the possibility of receiving reinforced misinformation. A guardian article I read (Paul, 2021) mentioned that users such as QAnon had learned how to manipulate the algorithms through their use of language to help spread their message and that in most cases disinformation is spread by a small number of users who know how to spread the word and manipulate the social media platforms. The anti-vaxxers are another example of using this ‘bubble of confirmation bias’ you mention to their advantage.

    It’s interesting that you mention that the fear may not have spread so quickly if not for social media. It’s great for rallying people to a cause but it can also be detrimental to spreading false information and it can be so hard to know what is inaccurate, especially when as you say journalists are also complicit in propagating ‘fake news’ to garner attention.

    This was a thought-provoking paper. Thank you.

    Please feel free to read my paper on the music fandom community who can also suffer from the echo-chamber effect through music streaming services:

    Paul, K. (2021). Small number of Facebook users responsible for most Covid vaccine skepticism – report.

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      Thank you for your comment. I had no idea about the QAnon algorithm manipulation but I’m not surprised. It would seem those types of groups are extremely determined to spread their message however they can, so abusing social media algorithms is well in the realm of possibility.

      I’ll be sure to have a look at your paper!

  26. Hi Clarissa!
    I really enjoyed reading your paper and I really liked how you’ve explored the relationship between social media, Covid, and fake news. I agree that social media facilitated an excess amount of panic and terror in Australia and the whole world regarding Covid.
    With the amount of ‘fake news’ being circled around news agencies and channels, it becomes difficult to process which news is fake or real. When Covid first flooded the whole world, I remember watching the news and receiving forwards regarding Covid and the magnitude of its spreading in China and the US (as you’ve mentioned in your essay), the exposure of such information resulted in confusion and fear as the news made the situation sound deadlier than it was in Thailand.
    You mentioned walking down empty streets and this resonated with me as in Thailand, the streets were as empty as can be because of all the misinformation being passed on.
    With all the news circulating, it becomes extremely difficult for people to act in the right way and keep themselves safe as this inflicts fear in them as you’ve mentioned.
    My question is: Do you think the governments and news agencies advocate for the spreading of fake news to further their own agendas?

    1. Hi Saranya,

      Thank you for your response! Your experience with COVID sounds somewhat similar to mine.

      Without getting my tin foil hat out, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some behind the scenes exchanges between the government and large news agencies. But, I mostly believe that if there is some benefit to making an article with fake news for a news outlet, they will do it. If that means exaggerating facts to appeal to their ‘left’ or ‘right’ audience for more clicks, or to drum up outrage, I have no problem believing it.

      Thank you again for the comment!

  27. Hi Clarissa
    Great paper.
    I liked some of the issues you raised around the way the media capitalised on our fear. Obviously, online sources generate large amounts of revenue from advertising. During the height of the pandemic, news outlets knew that the more sensationalist the article, the more clicks they would get, and the more exposure for their paid advertising partners they would receive.

    I remember clicking on news articles that focused on the daily infection rates in my city (Melbourne,AU), and alongside the news articles, advertisements for vitamins at chemists selling online. The fear drove me to the article, and the fear from the article forced me to query my own health, and inadvertently, whether I needed to buy supplements to help my immune system.

    Did the constant stream of sensationalist stories about CoVid-19 make you question the legitimacy of the news you were seeing?

    For me personally, it really highlighted for me that headlines are not for news – they are to draw you in, to grab your attention – they rarely tell you the whole story and in some cases, do not accurately reflect the news story behind the headline.


    If you are interested, I wrote a paper about influencer led communities and I’d love if you paid it a visit!

    1. Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the reply and question!

      “Did the constant stream of sensationalist stories about CoVid-19 make you question the legitimacy of the news you were seeing?”
      Personally, I like to think I’m slightly more aware of how warped news can be than the average person, but through the pandemic I realised just how much of what I saw online was exaggerated or fake. Similar to you, I found myself questioning the legitimacy of every headline that passed my feed.


  28. Hello! This was a really interesting read.
    I love how you included your own anecdotal evidence by stating that you yourself have travelled down these empty streets.
    Your perspective on journalism’s role in generating fake news during the pandemic is very enlightening, and I have to agree with you on everything you have discussed.
    Do you think that the hysteria and fake news by big news media corporations are politically charged? Do you think that politics and parliament has anything to do with why corporations such as Sky News and 7 News are trying to scare people about the pandemic?
    Thank you!
    Grace 🙂

    1. Hi Grace,

      Thank you for the comment and I’m glad you can agree.

      In reply to your questions,
      I believe that not all fake news is politically charged, some articles exist purely for shock value and don’t reference politics at all. But speaking on big news media corporations, they often are pre-established as appealing to the ‘right’ or ‘left’ of politics. With this in mind, to connect with their audiences, big news corps may push certain statements/narratives that will please their readers even if they aren’t entirely true.
      Basically, yes, I do believe there are fake news articles that used the pandemic to push political agendas. With corporations such as Sky News and 7 News, while I don’t have enough knowledge to come to a proper conclusion, I wouldn’t be suprised if they had articles that connected the state of COVID-19 in Australia to the actions political leaders.

      Thank you again for the comment!

  29. Hi Clarissa,

    Brilliant article! It’s very interesting to read about how the United States’ experience with COVID-19 influenced our reaction in Australia, due to our connection through social media.

    You mentioned the term ‘fake news’, and how misleading, fear-mongering news articles are being spread across the internet more and more. Do you think more has to be done to block ‘fake news’ from being shared online, to decrease or slow down the spread of fear? I’m aware that social media sites have already made steps to do this, but is it possible to completely eradicate all fake news? If not, should these sites be blocking news in general from being posted or shared, or is there another way to control this?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    Facebook misinformation:

    Twitter COVID-19 misinformation:

    Instagram combatting misinformation:

    1. Hi Asha,

      Thank you for the reply!

      Answering your questions, I believe there definitely have been moves to remove ‘fake news’ from social media. The links you’ve pasted show proof of how Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been managing it.

      Are we able to completely eradicate ‘fake news’? No way! As long as the internet maintains the freedom it currently has, with anyone being able to create content (through videos, c reating their own websites etc.), there will most likely always be ‘fake news’ as it’s made to benefit those who make it.
      In other words, as long as it can benefit someone, people will create ‘fake news’.

      Onto your final question, I believe that maintaining the freedom of the internet is important and as such, instead of having a higher power blocking ‘fake news’ from everywhere on the internet, education should be the way to go. Teaching users to be highly scepticle of what they read and encouraging fact checking should be important, perhaps presented as infomercials in the place of ads on social media or other places.

      Once again, thank you for the comment!

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