Tired about Covid-19 news? Maybe that’s good for society!

Published on September 15, 2022 – More and more people say they avoid the news, for example, about Covid-19. But what are the implications for society? A recently published study finds that avoiding news about a crisis is not necessarily bad news for society. 

More and more people say they cannot follow the news anymore. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, many citizens started to avoid the news about it. Often, news avoidance is considered something negative: it is argued to yield less informed citizens which can be problematic in crisis situations.

Researchers from the Weizenbaum Institute, Hogeschool Utrecht, University of Amsterdam and Wageningen University used a survey that was sent to more than a 1,000 respondents four times between April and July 2020. Respondents were asked about their news usage behavior and activities in civic engagement. The study answers the question whether news avoidance leads to higher or lower levels of civic engagement

The study finds that citizens who more frequently avoid news about Covid-19 have a higher chance in being more engaged in pro-social engagement related to Covid-19. We have tested the relationship over time on an individual level, specifically whether a citizen who avoids the news about Covid-19 more often than when we had asked the last time, also says they have been more or less active in four types of civic engagement: voluntary work, donations, convincing people to follow Covid-19 measures, and posting a call for actions to do so on social media.

Importantly, news avoidance and (high) news use are not complete opposites. In a second study, we find evidence that following news media increased the chances for citizens’ pro-social activities in the early days of the pandemic as well. This can be explained because people who use a lot of news might also deliberately decide to avoid news at specific instances. Taking a break from doomscrolling through news and using the time gained for something meaningful may be helpful for a society – especially during a crisis.

Full article:
Ohme, J., de Bruin, K., de Haan, Y., Kruikemeier, S., van der Meer, T. G., & Vliegenthart, R. (2022). Avoiding the news to participate in society? The longitudinal relationship between news avoidance and civic engagement. Communications. https://doi.org/10.1515/commun-2021-0099