Combatting COVID-19 Misinformation
The majority of communication-related articles this week focus on the effects of COVID-19 misinformation and offer recommendations for addressing it.
Research has demonstrated that excessive information, especially misinformation, has a negative psychological effect on people. In a meta-analysis of 20 studies, researchers found that COVID-19 misinformation circulating on social media triggered public fear and other psychological manifestations. Individuals’ mental health continues to deteriorate, making misinformation dangerous for people and communities. The authors of this commentary offer suggestions for improving crisis communication across media platforms to mitigate the negative influence of COVID-19 (mis)information on mental health. It is imperative for media to provide balanced, fact-based, truth-oriented information that is credible, reliable, and trustworthy.
Much of the information circulating about COVID-19, however, is not accurate. In an experiment to assess the World Health Organization’s (WHO) infographics designed to debunk coronavirus myths, researchers found that exposure to the corrective graphic on social media did reduce some misperceptions (although not all) and had lasting effects. These effects were seen regardless of who shared the information (expert or anonymous poster) and when the information was shared (preemptively or in response to misinformation). They recommend health organizations develop and disseminate shareable graphics to improve people’s knowledge.
This preemptive strategy is encouraged by other researchers as well. By reviewing existing research, the authors of this special issue article highlight how repetitive, inaccurate information that aligns with individuals’ pre-existing attitudes and beliefs affects memory. They also discuss how social media users and companies can prevent the spread of misinformation, which is more effective than debunking misinformation once exposed. They recommend providing warnings about potential misinformation and providing additional context to articles.
In this editorial commentary, pediatric infectious disease specialists discuss how the proliferation of mis- and dis-information about COVID-19 creates confusion that increases disease spread because of individuals not participating in preventive behaviors. They argue that pediatric infectious disease specialists play an important role in responding to the spread of misinformation, particularly on social media. This is because parents and youth often turn to social media for information. They urge colleagues to take a pro-active approach by opening social media accounts and communicating COVID-19 truths to leverage pro-science voices among the growing anti-science comments.
Finally, with the push to vaccinate health care providers and vulnerable older adults in a timely manner, Tom Frieden, renowned infectious disease and public health physician, provided a checklist for communication strategists to effectively communicate the plan for vaccine dissemination this week. Carefully monitoring misinformation is one of many action items needed for an effective communication strategy. See his essential checklist to get prepared and for targeting health care workers, influencers, and the general public.