In this day of mass information distribution, educators encourage students to be wise in selecting sources. Incorrect information may be genuinely believed by many and in broadcasting, the fact it has no evidence base is quickly lost. The Covid-19 pandemic plunged the world into an uncomfortable unknown. We needed answers. We let our imaginations explore reasons, causes, solutions. Where no facts existed, people poured out their theories, their fears and their opinions across the full range of online information sources like Facebook and YouTube.

There is no intention in this opinion piece of writing to suggest that Facebook and YouTube are at fault. They are in some ways victims  of their own success. It is also untrue to suggest that they don’t try to remove misleading or dangerous content. They do. And it is worth noting that trusted news channels such as the BBC have their own YouTube channel. So we can’t generalise about ‘social media’. All media is online now. And it is when we are online we need to be discerning. Look for the evidence.

Against this background, it is interesting to see the results of of a new peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Psychological Medicine. The study was undertaken in the UK by researchers at King’s College London in April and May 2020. It found a strong link between conspiracy theories and ‘risk-taking behaviour’ that flouted lockdown rules among people who got most of their information from personalised social media channels on Facebook and YouTube. For example, people in that group said they would be likely to leave home, even if they had Covid-19 symptoms, three times more than people who obtained their news from official channels such as mainstream media or government.

Ellern Mede staff, parents and patients certainly set a really good example as our safety measures were well adhered to, and as we emerge from lockdown slowly and carefully, it has been with the guidance of evidence-tested briefings (50 daily staff  briefings, now weekly, and several parents’ briefings) to help us all navigate the news.