This week, two studies were published assessing the quality of online information about COVID-19 being communicated to public audiences.
In the first study, researchers determined there are gaps in the quality of information available online. Websites from educational sources (.edu) and organizational sources (.org) had the highest ratings for communicating COVID-19-related information followed by government sites (.gov) and general communication sites (.com). Websites were evaluated using the DISCERN tool, which looks at six categories: relevance, objectives, information credibility, treatment choices, treatment effect, and treatment and management. Websites could benefit from more clarity, especially regarding its purpose, and it was suggested that informers consider how information may empower individuals instead of confusing or misguiding them before sharing the information with the public.
The second study involved assessing the reading level of official government and public health agency websites of 18 organizations in 15 different countries. Disturbingly, it was determined that all 149 webpages scored above an 8th grade reading level (the highest recommended level) by at least one metric, and almost all (141) scored above the 8th grade reading level by all five metrics used. In the United States, the CDC pages were written at an 11th grade reading level. Websites exceeded recommended reading levels by using multi-syllable words, complex syntax, and technical terminology. By not heeding readability standards, individuals with lower health literacy will suffer more, which exacerbates the disparate effects of the pandemic.