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Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study.
J Med Internet Res. 2020 Oct 27; 22(10):e19791.JM

Abstract

BACKGROUND

The ongoing pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on global society, health care, governments, and mass media. Public dissemination of government policies, medical interventions, and misinformation has been remarkably rapid and largely unregulated during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in increased misinterpretations, miscommunication, and public panic. Being the first full-scale global pandemic of the digital age, COVID-19 has presented novel challenges pertinent to government advice, the spread of news and misinformation, and the trade-off between the accessibility of science and the premature public use of unproven medical interventions.

OBJECTIVE

This study aims to assess the use of internet search terms relating to COVID-19 information and misinformation during the global pandemic, identify which were most used in six affected countries, investigate any temporal trends and the likely propagators of key search terms, and determine any correlation between the per capita cases and deaths with the adoption of these search terms in each of the six countries.

METHODS

This study uses relative search volume data extracted from Google Trends for search terms linked to the COVID-19 pandemic alongside per capita case and mortality data extracted from the European Open Data Portal to identify the temporal dynamics of the spread of news and misinformation during the global pandemic in six affected countries (Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States). A correlation analysis was carried out to ascertain any correlation between the temporal trends of search term use and the rise of per capita mortality and disease cases.

RESULTS

Of the selected search terms, most were searched immediately following promotion by governments, public figures, or viral circulation of information, but also in relation to the publication of scientific resources, which were sometimes misinterpreted before further dissemination. Strong correlations were identified between the volume of these COVID-19-related search terms (overall mean Spearman rho 0.753, SD 0.158), and per capita mortality (mean per capita deaths Spearman rho 0.690, SD 0.168) and cases (mean per capita cases Spearman rho 0.800, SD 0.112).

CONCLUSIONS

These findings illustrate the increased rate and volume of the public consumption of novel information during a global health care crisis. The positive correlation between mortality and online searching, particularly in countries with lower COVID-19 testing rates, may demonstrate the imperative to safeguard official communications and dispel misinformation in these countries. Online news, government briefings, and social media provide a powerful tool for the dissemination of important information to the public during pandemics, but their misuse and the presentation of misrepresented medical information should be monitored, minimized, and addressed to safeguard public safety. Ultimately, governments, public health authorities, and scientists have a moral imperative to safeguard the truth and maintain an accessible discourse with the public to limit fear.

Authors+Show Affiliations

School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.Medicine Discovery Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.

Pub Type(s)

Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

Language

eng

PubMed ID

32915763

Citation

Badell-Grau, Rafael A., et al. "Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study." Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 22, no. 10, 2020, pp. e19791.
Badell-Grau RA, Cuff JP, Kelly BP, et al. Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study. J Med Internet Res. 2020;22(10):e19791.
Badell-Grau, R. A., Cuff, J. P., Kelly, B. P., Waller-Evans, H., & Lloyd-Evans, E. (2020). Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(10), e19791. https://doi.org/10.2196/19791
Badell-Grau RA, et al. Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study. J Med Internet Res. 2020 Oct 27;22(10):e19791. PubMed PMID: 32915763.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - JOUR T1 - Investigating the Prevalence of Reactive Online Searching in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Infoveillance Study. AU - Badell-Grau,Rafael A, AU - Cuff,Jordan Patrick, AU - Kelly,Brendan P, AU - Waller-Evans,Helen, AU - Lloyd-Evans,Emyr, Y1 - 2020/10/27/ PY - 2020/5/8/received PY - 2020/8/27/accepted PY - 2020/8/6/revised PY - 2020/9/12/pubmed PY - 2020/11/5/medline PY - 2020/9/11/entrez KW - COVID-19 KW - Google Trends KW - chloroquine KW - coronavirus KW - fake news KW - ibuprofen KW - infodemiology KW - misinformation SP - e19791 EP - e19791 JF - Journal of medical Internet research JO - J Med Internet Res VL - 22 IS - 10 N2 - BACKGROUND: The ongoing pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on global society, health care, governments, and mass media. Public dissemination of government policies, medical interventions, and misinformation has been remarkably rapid and largely unregulated during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in increased misinterpretations, miscommunication, and public panic. Being the first full-scale global pandemic of the digital age, COVID-19 has presented novel challenges pertinent to government advice, the spread of news and misinformation, and the trade-off between the accessibility of science and the premature public use of unproven medical interventions. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to assess the use of internet search terms relating to COVID-19 information and misinformation during the global pandemic, identify which were most used in six affected countries, investigate any temporal trends and the likely propagators of key search terms, and determine any correlation between the per capita cases and deaths with the adoption of these search terms in each of the six countries. METHODS: This study uses relative search volume data extracted from Google Trends for search terms linked to the COVID-19 pandemic alongside per capita case and mortality data extracted from the European Open Data Portal to identify the temporal dynamics of the spread of news and misinformation during the global pandemic in six affected countries (Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States). A correlation analysis was carried out to ascertain any correlation between the temporal trends of search term use and the rise of per capita mortality and disease cases. RESULTS: Of the selected search terms, most were searched immediately following promotion by governments, public figures, or viral circulation of information, but also in relation to the publication of scientific resources, which were sometimes misinterpreted before further dissemination. Strong correlations were identified between the volume of these COVID-19-related search terms (overall mean Spearman rho 0.753, SD 0.158), and per capita mortality (mean per capita deaths Spearman rho 0.690, SD 0.168) and cases (mean per capita cases Spearman rho 0.800, SD 0.112). CONCLUSIONS: These findings illustrate the increased rate and volume of the public consumption of novel information during a global health care crisis. The positive correlation between mortality and online searching, particularly in countries with lower COVID-19 testing rates, may demonstrate the imperative to safeguard official communications and dispel misinformation in these countries. Online news, government briefings, and social media provide a powerful tool for the dissemination of important information to the public during pandemics, but their misuse and the presentation of misrepresented medical information should be monitored, minimized, and addressed to safeguard public safety. Ultimately, governments, public health authorities, and scientists have a moral imperative to safeguard the truth and maintain an accessible discourse with the public to limit fear. SN - 1438-8871 UR - https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/32915763/Investigating_the_Prevalence_of_Reactive_Online_Searching_in_the_COVID_19_Pandemic:_Infoveillance_Study_ DB - PRIME DP - Unbound Medicine ER -