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Association Between What People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study.
J Med Internet Res. 2021 09 02; 23(9):e28975.JM

Abstract

BACKGROUND

The use of the internet and web-based platforms to obtain public health information and manage health-related issues has become widespread in this digital age. The practice is so pervasive that the first reaction to obtaining health information is to "Google it." As SARS-CoV-2 broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and quickly spread worldwide, people flocked to the internet to learn about the novel coronavirus and the disease, COVID-19. Lagging responses by governments and public health agencies to prioritize the dissemination of information about the coronavirus outbreak through the internet and the World Wide Web and to build trust gave room for others to quickly populate social media, online blogs, news outlets, and websites with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in people's deviant behaviors toward public health safety measures.

OBJECTIVE

The goals of this study were to determine what people learned about the COVID-19 pandemic through web searches, examine any association between what people learned about COVID-19 and behavior toward public health guidelines, and analyze the impact of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic on people's behavior toward public health measures.

METHODS

This infodemiology study used Google Trends' worldwide search index, covering the first 6 months after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak (January 1 to June 30, 2020) when the public scrambled for information about the pandemic. Data analysis employed statistical trends, correlation and regression, principal component analysis (PCA), and predictive models.

RESULTS

The PCA identified two latent variables comprising past coronavirus epidemics (pastCoVepidemics: keywords that address previous epidemics) and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (presCoVpandemic: keywords that explain the ongoing pandemic). Both principal components were used significantly to learn about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 and explained 88.78% of the variability. Three principal components fuelled misinformation about COVID-19: misinformation (keywords "biological weapon," "virus hoax," "common cold," "COVID-19 hoax," and "China virus"), conspiracy theory 1 (ConspTheory1; keyword "5G" or "@5G"), and conspiracy theory 2 (ConspTheory2; keyword "ingest bleach"). These principal components explained 84.85% of the variability. The principal components represent two measurements of public health safety guidelines-public health measures 1 (PubHealthMes1; keywords "social distancing," "wash hands," "isolation," and "quarantine") and public health measures 2 (PubHealthMes2; keyword "wear mask")-which explained 84.7% of the variability. Based on the PCA results and the log-linear and predictive models, ConspTheory1 (keyword "@5G") was identified as a predictor of people's behavior toward public health measures (PubHealthMes2). Although correlations of misinformation (keywords "COVID-19," "hoax," "virus hoax," "common cold," and more) and ConspTheory2 (keyword "ingest bleach") with PubHealthMes1 (keywords "social distancing," "hand wash," "isolation," and more) were r=0.83 and r=-0.11, respectively, neither was statistically significant (P=.27 and P=.13, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS

Several studies focused on the impacts of social media and related platforms on the spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories. This study provides the first empirical evidence to the mainly anecdotal discourse on the use of web searches to learn about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

Authors+Show Affiliations

Department of Management & Information Systems, Kent State University, New Philadelphia, OH, United States.Infectious Disease Internal Medicine Department, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States.Statistical and Actuarial Sciences, Western University, London, ON, Canada.Department of Management & Information Systems, Kent State University, Kent, OH, United States.Research and Development, Ibom International Center for Research and Scholarship, Windsor, ON, Canada.Department of Management & Information Systems, Kent State University, Kent, OH, United States.

Pub Type(s)

Journal Article

Language

eng

PubMed ID

34280117

Citation

Akpan, Ikpe Justice, et al. "Association Between what People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study." Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 23, no. 9, 2021, pp. e28975.
Akpan IJ, Aguolu OG, Kobara YM, et al. Association Between What People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study. J Med Internet Res. 2021;23(9):e28975.
Akpan, I. J., Aguolu, O. G., Kobara, Y. M., Razavi, R., Akpan, A. A., & Shanker, M. (2021). Association Between What People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(9), e28975. https://doi.org/10.2196/28975
Akpan IJ, et al. Association Between what People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study. J Med Internet Res. 2021 09 2;23(9):e28975. PubMed PMID: 34280117.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - JOUR T1 - Association Between What People Learned About COVID-19 Using Web Searches and Their Behavior Toward Public Health Guidelines: Empirical Infodemiology Study. AU - Akpan,Ikpe Justice, AU - Aguolu,Obianuju Genevieve, AU - Kobara,Yawo Mamoua, AU - Razavi,Rouzbeh, AU - Akpan,Asuama A, AU - Shanker,Murali, Y1 - 2021/09/02/ PY - 2021/05/01/received PY - 2021/07/09/accepted PY - 2021/07/09/revised PY - 2021/7/20/pubmed PY - 2021/9/30/medline PY - 2021/7/19/entrez KW - COVID-19 KW - SARS-CoV-2 KW - conspiracy theories KW - infodemiology KW - internet KW - misinformation KW - novel coronavirus KW - public health SP - e28975 EP - e28975 JF - Journal of medical Internet research JO - J Med Internet Res VL - 23 IS - 9 N2 - BACKGROUND: The use of the internet and web-based platforms to obtain public health information and manage health-related issues has become widespread in this digital age. The practice is so pervasive that the first reaction to obtaining health information is to "Google it." As SARS-CoV-2 broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and quickly spread worldwide, people flocked to the internet to learn about the novel coronavirus and the disease, COVID-19. Lagging responses by governments and public health agencies to prioritize the dissemination of information about the coronavirus outbreak through the internet and the World Wide Web and to build trust gave room for others to quickly populate social media, online blogs, news outlets, and websites with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in people's deviant behaviors toward public health safety measures. OBJECTIVE: The goals of this study were to determine what people learned about the COVID-19 pandemic through web searches, examine any association between what people learned about COVID-19 and behavior toward public health guidelines, and analyze the impact of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic on people's behavior toward public health measures. METHODS: This infodemiology study used Google Trends' worldwide search index, covering the first 6 months after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak (January 1 to June 30, 2020) when the public scrambled for information about the pandemic. Data analysis employed statistical trends, correlation and regression, principal component analysis (PCA), and predictive models. RESULTS: The PCA identified two latent variables comprising past coronavirus epidemics (pastCoVepidemics: keywords that address previous epidemics) and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (presCoVpandemic: keywords that explain the ongoing pandemic). Both principal components were used significantly to learn about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 and explained 88.78% of the variability. Three principal components fuelled misinformation about COVID-19: misinformation (keywords "biological weapon," "virus hoax," "common cold," "COVID-19 hoax," and "China virus"), conspiracy theory 1 (ConspTheory1; keyword "5G" or "@5G"), and conspiracy theory 2 (ConspTheory2; keyword "ingest bleach"). These principal components explained 84.85% of the variability. The principal components represent two measurements of public health safety guidelines-public health measures 1 (PubHealthMes1; keywords "social distancing," "wash hands," "isolation," and "quarantine") and public health measures 2 (PubHealthMes2; keyword "wear mask")-which explained 84.7% of the variability. Based on the PCA results and the log-linear and predictive models, ConspTheory1 (keyword "@5G") was identified as a predictor of people's behavior toward public health measures (PubHealthMes2). Although correlations of misinformation (keywords "COVID-19," "hoax," "virus hoax," "common cold," and more) and ConspTheory2 (keyword "ingest bleach") with PubHealthMes1 (keywords "social distancing," "hand wash," "isolation," and more) were r=0.83 and r=-0.11, respectively, neither was statistically significant (P=.27 and P=.13, respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Several studies focused on the impacts of social media and related platforms on the spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories. This study provides the first empirical evidence to the mainly anecdotal discourse on the use of web searches to learn about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. SN - 1438-8871 UR - https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/34280117/Association_Between_What_People_Learned_About_COVID_19_Using_Web_Searches_and_Their_Behavior_Toward_Public_Health_Guidelines:_Empirical_Infodemiology_Study_ L2 - https://www.jmir.org/2021/9/e28975/ DB - PRIME DP - Unbound Medicine ER -