It’s Not All Doom and Gloom:

Protection Motivation Theory Factors That Reverse the Negative Impact of Social Media Use on Compliance and Protective Health Behaviors


  • Raluca Cozma Kansas State University
  • Nancy Muturi Kansas State University



A nationally representative online survey was conducted in the United States in July 2020 to examine the role of social media use in knowledge about COVID-19, compliance with public health guidelines, and protective behaviors. Building on the Protection Motivation Theory, the analysis revealed that threat severity perceptions and self-efficacy, but not vulnerability perceptions, mediated the negative impact of social media use during the pandemic. Given the current debates surrounding the effect of social media use on both political and health knowledge, the study's findings suggest that rather than inundating social media with messages about the severity of the disease, risk communication that meets audiences where they are and enhance both self-efficacy and severity perceptions could lead to wider adoption of protective responses.