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EXAMINING YOUTHS’ ACCESS, USE AND APPLICATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA AS SOURCES OF HEALTH INFORMATION DURING COVID19 OUTBREAK IN NIGERIA

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1       Background of the Study

            The phenomenon of human communication continues to develop as man seeks for ways to make life easy.According to Robinson, Patrick and Gustafson (1998), the first generation of internet search engines was referred to as Web 1.0, a one-way flow of information, or the read only web. Information was searched and accessed unilaterally as interaction by users was limited. Nauert (2013), indicated that in the wake of the Web 2.0 phenomenon, communication and media operations have also begun experiencing rapid changes; that new media evolution has continued to chart new paths in improving and influencing human communication and all facets of human society.

Eysenbach, et’al (2004) observed that over the past few years, there has been a dramatic transformation in the way people communicate with one another through electronic media, with the continued development of Web 2.0 technologies. Drentea and Moren-Cross (2005) added thus;

The Web 2.0 marks a shift from a one-way conversation to a multi-way conversation, in which users participate as both creators and consumers of web contents. Social media structures include size, reciprocity, complexity, density, homogeneity, reachability and geographic dispersion (p.923).

            Rice and Katz (2002) assert that among the variety of places one could find health information is the internet, with as many as four-fifths of users looking for such content online. For instance, a study by Pew Research Centre Internet & American Life Project in 2011 shows that 80% of internet users have looked online for information about health topics such as disease and treatment.

Barker (2008) indicated that the social media appears to offer many benefits not available through other means as users see digital media as a means to overcome health disparities. In support of the latter, Hardey (1999) noted that the sheer volume and variety of information available online is likely much more than most people have available off-line.

Berkman and Glass (2000, p.5) in their study show the linkages among social networks, social support and health.  Through this study, Berkman and Glass indicated how social networks provide opportunities for psychosocial mechanisms, such as social support and social influence, which in turn affect health through health behavioural, psychological, and physiologic pathways.

Since pandemics are large-scale outbreaks of infectious disease that can greatly increase morbidity and mortality rates over a wide geographical area and cause significant economic, social and political catastrophes. People now turn to other means of communication that seem to be quicker, faster and could protect their identities in other than the conventional face-to-face off-line consultation.  (Emily & Jacobson, 2020; WHO, 2020; Jones, et’al 2008Morse, 1995).

Access to online information has created an opportunity for non-clinicians and patients to take a more active role in healthcare. To buttress the above assertion, Phelan and colleagues (2004) stated;

Being embedded in a social context where neighbours, friends, family members, and co-workers can generally look forward to a long and healthy life surely contributes to an individual’s motivation to engage in health-enhancing behaviours (p. 267).

According to Cohen and Syme (1985), the adoption of social media by health organizations reflects a widespread sense that these tools are increasingly necessary to reach demographics who are abandoning traditional broadcast technologies (e.g., telephones, television) such as teens or a significant portion of the public who are rapidly transforming the manner in which they interact with experts.  

Pereira and Bruera (1998) noted that social media platforms form an important continuum in terms of how people privately seek health-related information, as well as publicly share such information, respectively. A study by Berger, Wagner & Baker (2005,) shows that the sense of anonymity and privacy that the internet offers leads some internet users to seek sensitive and potentially stigmatizing information through this means.

Ellery and Perlmutter (2001, p.41) enumerated that a majority of health educators are fast adopting social media. They further emphasized that social media provides an outlet for the publication of health information to consumers, while allowing consumers to respond and contribute to advice that was traditionally only issued by providers.

However, Flanagin and Metzger (2008), pointed out that traditional gatekeepers, such as editorial boards, whose task it is to guarantee certain levels of quality in the analogue environment are less important in the online world. This implies that there are a limited number of standards for quality control and evaluation of contents on social media (Dobransky & Hargittai, 2012, p. 335).  Adelhard and Obst (1999) also observed that dangers associated with using the social media as a resource for health information, most prominently dwell in the areas of accuracy and reliability. Giles (2007) suggested that using such health information from the internet for decision-making purposes without expert advice could potentially have a negative impact on users’ health.

Statistics shows that the use of social media is a prevalent phenomenon among youths. A study by Fenichel (2009) suggests that between 55% and 82% of teenagers and young adults use Facebook on regular basis. Similarly, a survey by Pew Research Centre shows that 90% of all American teens have used social media.

Given how pervasive social media is today, many parents, educators, and other adults are deeply interested in the role of these media in youths’ lives. Some are optimistic about the potential benefits of social media for learning, development, and creativity; others are concerned about the negative impact these media may have, especially when it comes to teens’ social and emotional well-being. This is because, this technology allows just about anybody to create content without any outside review for validity or accuracy (Kim, Eng, Deering & Maxfield, 1999).

1.2       Statement of the problem

The use of social media is expanding exponentially as the number of social media outlets, platforms and applications available continue to increase. Individuals use blogs, social networking sites, video sites, online chat rooms and forums to communicate both personally and professionally with others.

Eysenbach (2008) began using the neologism “apomediation” (apo: separateness, detachment) to describe the way new online platforms allow users to bypass formal intermediaries, expert gatekeepers, or other middlemen. In conjunction with the above, Abehard & Obst, (1999) emphatically stated that health information on the World Wide Web is incomplete, contradictory or based on insufficient scientific evidence.

Numerous studies have examined where youths receive health information. It is widely recognized that, in this digital age, the Web has become a leading source for this group. A recent study shows that the percentage of youths who used the Web for health information increased from 73% in 2005 to nearly 79% in 2010 (Escoffery, et’al, 2005; Michael, Ezeanwu & Oniwon, 2022). 

Lambert and Loiselle (2007) observed that as the mechanism of seeking and sharing health information on social media continue to grow in accessibility and popularity, individuals utilize them to take a more active role in managing their health. Bearing in mind the delicate nature of human health, this poses a serious challenge to how youths, who are the regula users of social media, handle health care information on social media during pandemic. These constitute the core problem this study seeks to systematically unravel. 

1.3       Objectives of the study

  1. To affirm youths’ level of access to social media health information during the outbreak of COVID19 outbreak.
  2. To know the extent to which youths sought health-care information on social media during the pandemic.
  3. To ascertain the kinds of health information youths seek on social media during the Outbreak of COVID19.
  4. To find out if youths confirm health-care information they found online about CONVID19 with offline health professionals.
  5. To examine youths’ preference when it comes to social media health information and offline health information from professionals. 

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