Avoiding Media Fatigue in National Emergencies
Research conducted at BIU’s Department of Information Science underscores the need to disseminate clear digital information to the public
Prolonged exposure to extensive information and data from the media during the COVID-19 pandemic led many Israeli citizens to experience information overload, along with overwhelming anxiety and fatigue. A study conducted at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Information Science finds that it is possible to prevent “media fatigue” if steps are taken to disseminate clear digital information in real time to the public at large.
Dr. Gal Yavetz conducted the new study with Prof. Noa Aharony and doctoral student Yaen Sofer, following his research from 2020. The study’s conclusions underscore the need to be able to turn to one reliable source which conveys the latest messages and instructions to citizens. It is also necessary to enlist public opinion leaders, and make general knowledge from government agencies accessible, in order to reduce uncertainty and worries, in cases of future national emergencies.
"Most of the interviewees in our study indicated feelings of media fatigue as a result of increased exposure to multiple media channels and information sources from the outset of the epidemic to the point of experiencing information overload," explains Dr. Yavetz. “The phenomenon is particularly evident in light of the double exposure: on the one hand from the traditional news channels during the outbreak of the epidemic, and on the other hand, mediated exposure through WhatsApp groups and family and friends who deliver these same messages simultaneously.”
The research was based on various studies, including the survey published by the “Common Sense” nonprofit organization, which deals with children’s welfare, and compares children’s screen time usage prior to, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, between the years 2019-2021, media use in general increased from an average of 7:22 hours to 8:39 hours among teenagers aged 13-18. An American PEW Institute survey reported a record 57% of citizens who said that in late March 2020, they very closely followed reports about COVID-19 throughout the day.
“In order to examine the Israeli angle on information needs of ordinary citizens during the lockdowns and outbreak of the virus, we sought to examine the role of the Internet, social networks, and the media in general, in the context of information overload, anxiety and perception during that period. To this end, we conducted 25 in-depth interviews with Israeli citizens aged 18 and over,” says Dr. Yavetz. “An interesting piece of data emerging from the research referred to the plurality of voices, the fact that participants felt that there was no one spokesperson relaying a uniform message and disseminating clear COVID-19 information and instructions to the public. All this led to the conclusion that there is a clear and immediate need for accessible and totally objective sources of information from experts and official public opinion leaders.”
“It is doubly important to ensure the provision of ongoing, reliable and high-quality information,” concludes Dr. Yavetz, “both responding to the needs of citizens and strengthening the degree of trust between citizens and the government. Our recommendations are unifying government services and making them accessible to the Israeli public, enlisting influential public leaders to help combat morbidity, and more efficiently disseminating information from government offices.”
This research was funded by the Dangoor Personalized Medicine Fund at Bar-Ilan University.