Fake news may lead to mental illness

SALALAH: Social media is boon and bane at the same time. This debatable issue has many implications, but one aspect which is not discussed widely is ‘psychological impact of fake news on common people.’

Clinical psychologists call it ‘infodemic’, which means ‘an excessive amount of information concerning a problem, to an extent that it is difficult for the receiver to judge what is right and what is wrong’.

The psychological cost of infodemic, according to Dr Sidra Afzal, Clinical Psychologist, is “unimaginably far reaching.”

“Infodemic has a vicious cycle and we need to understand its structural significance. Infodemic leads to confusion and confused individuals are the ablest hosts of developing fear and anxiety. The loss of the reasoning and judgment sets in.  Once this operation of anxiety and fear begins, it leads to the high suggestibility among individuals.  The mental filter which is completely corrupted under the influence of vicious cycle begins allowing the free flow of misinformation at micro and macro levels,” said Dr Sidra Afzal in an interview with the Observer.

She cited some examples of misinformation doing the round during Covid-19 pandemic. “Disinfectant poisoning as the treatment of covid-19, illness is as mild as seasonal flue, self-medication based on home remedies in place of seeking medical advice, believing the racial origins of virus, Nano-chip, 5G and whole lot of other conspiracy theories have gained popularity due to this.”

Being an expert in the filed she said with conviction that the everyday increase in number of conformists to these ill-founded beliefs is leading towards massive incidence of depression, anxiety, paranoia, disruptive mood dysregulation and obsessive compulsive disorders. The unfortunate are those individuals who are experiencing the precipitating versions of their preexisting psychiatric ailments owing to conflicting information around the current pandemic.

She put stress on looking for right media to get right information. “The news (the fact stated as it is) and the ‘opinews’ (opinions on news) have varying psychological impacts owing to their different nature. In current times most of us are viewing and getting influenced by ‘opinews’ from all media outlets.”

People, according to her, receive misinformation on their social media accounts and snowball the myths, unverified spiritual/ herbal remedies and conspiracy theories as means of perpetual charity due to imperative emphasis of sharing that piece of information to save lives.

“Even the intellectual elites are being observed believing misinformation owing to their lack of training to differentiate the news from ‘opinews’.  As a consequence, people are more likely to reject the actual, fact based news from the reliable sources like national broadcasting centers. The behavioral depiction of this attitude was clearly seen during Eid ul Fitr when a section of people were seen not adhering to instructions and arranging parties and attending group gatherings.”

An expert in psychological assessment, postnatal blues and depression, counseling and psychotherapy, Dr Sidra Afzal called for massive awareness and urgent intervention in such cases.