Why toilet paper, of all things, is the latest coronavirus panic buy

Images of empty shelves and shopping carts piled high with supplies have inundated news reports and social feeds. People see images of panic buyers, assume there’s a reason to panic and buy up supplies, too, Taylor said.

“People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous,” he said. “And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect.”

All those photos of empty shelves may lead people to believe that they must rush out and grab toilet paper while they still can. And what started as perceived scarcity becomes actual scarcity, Taylor said.

Social media is a huge player in novel coronavirus fear-mongering, Taylor said. Misinformation spreads with ease, and open platforms amplify voices of panic.