Social media has shown to be an essential form of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. This editorial focuses on both the positives and negatives of using social media, for both the public and for health care providers (and the authors present their review of the advantages and disadvantages in an easy-to-read table). Although quick dissemination of information can be a benefit, a growing cost is the rapidly spreading misinformation. The authors argue that the scientific community and health care professionals must be willing to learn and use social media platforms effectively to benefit the public.
One important step in using social media effectively from the public’s perspective is to avoid blindly accepting all information circulating. In this national survey, researchers determined that the use of social media was associated with higher conspiracy beliefs, and individuals who rely heavily on social media for their news were less likely to follow government guidelines, which speaks to the dangers of misinformation spread online. Fortunately, those who did not blindly trust social media were able to more accurately identify misinformation and were less likely to believe conspiracy theories. This offers hope that by educating people about how to be critical consumers of information, there is an opportunity to combat the effects of misinformation.
One online tool that provides accurate information and has shown to support data-driven decision making is the use of COVID-19 dashboards. In this assessment of 53 countries’ dashboards, the researchers found that although the content, delivery, and rationale for each dashboard varied, all of them communicated timely and accurate information. They also determined that the dashboards could be enhanced if they adopted seven actionability features:
- Know the audience and information needs
- Manage the type, volume, and flow of displayed information
- Report data sources and methods clearly
- Link time trends to policy decisions
- Provide data that are “close to home”
- Break down the population into relevant subgroups
- Use storytelling and visual cues