Fitness Influencers, Please Don’t Spread COVID-19 Misinformation on Social Media

My fellow fitness instructors, trainers, coaches, and influencers:

I beg you, please, for the love of the people’s health, do not use your platform to spread misinformation about COVID-19. Really, please. As someone who spent eight years getting a master’s and a Ph.D. in public health (partially focused on health communication), some of the posts and comments I have seen floating around the ’gram from fitness or yoga accounts, quite frankly, terrify me—like that people are blowing the virus out of proportion, or that it’s not actually that big of a deal. All things that we’ve also heard from our current administration.

The spread of this misinformation matters because it misleads beliefs and behaviors. It is detrimental not only to your individual followers or clients, but also to the public as a whole. COVID-19 is real. This is a global pandemic. Every person who contracts COVID-19 has the capability to further spread the virus, thus prolonging its life. Public health communication researchers and practitioners work tirelessly to figure out how to best communicate the right information in the right way to the right people; spreading misinformation has the potential to undo all of that.

As leaders and role models in the fitness and movement space, I want us to do better. Your followers and clients look to you for fitness guidance, workouts, and expertise. They see you as a reliable source and are used to taking your advice on anything in the wellness space. They are primed to believe what you put out, especially if you self-identify or have otherwise been anointed as a “health expert.” You’ve heard it before: With great power comes great responsibility. We need to accept that responsibility and take it seriously.

I do understand that there is a plethora of COVID-19 information circulating, so much of it seemingly contradictory and thus potentially confusing and frustrating. The most well-meaning of us can easily fall into the trap of assuming something’s accuracy if we aren’t paying close attention. Add to that the fear for our own health or our careers and the grief for the lives we were living before March, along with the anger and anxiety about our reality today, and we are especially primed to react to COVID-19 news, especially involving headlines that are specifically crafted to activate negative emotions.

Reacting too quickly to COVID-19 news without first verifying it can lead to further disseminating misinformation, even unintentionally. In a social media sense, that translates to sending, sharing, reposting, or commenting something that spreads uninformed or ill-informed messaging. Doing so means you have now become a vector; you are now perpetuating the pandemic of misinformation and contributing to the pandemic of COVID-19.

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