The Public Health Impact of Mass Media

Mass media plays a critical role in shaping public opinion, influencing cultural norms, and disseminating information about current events, entertainment, and marketing messages. It is a powerful tool for communicating information and shaping public discourse, and it profoundly impacts how we think, feel, and behave.

Manuela Băbuș
Medical Writer
The Public Health Impact of Mass Media

What is Mass Media?

Mass media refers to a diverse array of communication channels, such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, social media, and the internet, that are used to transmit information to large audiences.

The Good Things

  1. Information dissemination: Mass media is an effective means of disseminating information on a large scale. It can provide people with accurate and up-to-date information on current events, health, education, and other important topics.
  2. Entertainment: Mass media provides entertainment for people of all ages. Television, radio, and movies offer a variety of programs, shows, and films that can keep people entertained.
  3. Education: Mass media can be used as a tool for education. It can be used to teach people about different cultures, history, and various other topics. It can also provide access to online courses and other educational resources.
  4. Social Awareness: Mass media can help raise social awareness on various issues (human rights, environmental issues, etc).

The Bad Things

  1. Misinformation: One of the biggest drawbacks of mass media is the spread of misinformation. False information, rumors, and conspiracy theories can spread quickly through social media.
  2. Addiction: Constant exposure to mass media can lead to addiction, which can be detrimental to mental health. Social media addiction, in particular, has been associated with anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.
  3. Desensitization: Constant exposure to violence, sex, and other controversial content can lead to desensitization. This can cause people to become numb to the negative impact of such content.
  4. Manipulation: Mass media can be used to manipulate people's opinions and beliefs. This can be seen in the way that news organizations spin stories to fit their own agenda or the way that advertisers use subliminal messaging to sell products.

The “dark side” of the media

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the impact of televised trauma on the emotional well-being of television viewers. 

Research has suggested that exposure to traumatic events through mass media may put the general public at risk of developing distress and even posttraumatic psychopathology.

An omnibus survey of 500 Jewish residents of Israel, published in 2015 assessed the psychological effects of the extensive news broadcasting that followed the war in Gaza (Bodas, 2015). 

This analysis revealed that an overwhelming majority of the population (87.2%) had tuned in to the newscasts, with the majority of viewers (76.7%) reporting an increase in news consumption compared to their usual habits. 

However, it was found that this increased exposure to televised trauma may have been detrimental to viewers' mental health.

A regression model showed that viewers who watched the newscasts more frequently than usual were 1.6 times more likely to report at least one anxiety symptom compared to those who watched at the same frequency or less of other programs. 

These findings suggest that increased exposure to televised traumatic content, as well as a negative perception of such broadcasts, may contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms or psychopathology

  • uncontrolled fear, 
  • physiological hyperarousal, 
  • sleeping difficulties, 
  • fearful thoughts. 

On March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, triggering widespread media coverage of the subject. 

The constant reporting on the pandemic created a sense of anxiety among the public, leading to impulsive buying of essential items such as hand sanitisers, face masks, and other daily necessities. 

Overall, the media has played a crucial role in shaping public opinion and policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study conducted in India (Dhanashree 2021) on a population of over 10 years old through an online survey using Google Forms has found that:

  • the internet and social media were the most commonly used sources of information during the COVID-19 pandemic, with TV news following closely behind. 
  • the use of TV and internet/social media increased significantly during the lockdown period, reflecting their crucial role in disseminating information and keeping people informed during the pandemic. 
  • the use of traditional sources such as newspapers, radio, and magazines saw a marked decline.

Anxiety due to COVID-related news through mass media was reported highest (27.3%) in the 40-49 age group and lowest (14.49%) in the 20-29 age group. 

Approximately 43% of people between the ages of 30-39 developed fear, and 28% of the 50-59 age group felt panic due to COVID-related news in mass media. 

It was found that the use of social media is the highest in the 20-29 age group, followed by the 10-19 age group.

In conclusion…

  • Mass media has both positive and negative effects on society. 
  • While it can be used for education, entertainment, and social awareness, it can also spread misinformation, and cause addiction, and manipulation. 
  • While the media has an important role to play in informing the public during times of crisis, it is equally important to consider the potential harm that may result from extensive coverage of traumatic events. 
  • lt may be worthwhile to explore strategies for minimizing harm associated with media exposure during times of crisis. These may include increased attention to the potential impact of media coverage on mental health.
Article Citations & Bibliography
  1. Bodas M et al. Anxiety-Inducing Media: The Effect of Constant News Broadcasting on the Well-Being of Israeli Television Viewers, Psychiatry 2015;78(3):265-76.
  2. Dhanashree, et al.: Role of mass media and its impact on general public during COVID-19 pandemic in North India. Indian Journal of Medical Sciences 2021; 73(1)

Please note that the information provided on this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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Manuela Băbuș.
Medical Writer