This week is full of information about misinformation.
All across the globe, misinformation about COVID-19 is a major threat to public health. In this research study of prevalence and predictors of belief in misinformation across the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and Mexico, researchers found that increases in susceptibility to misinformation negatively affects compliance with public health recommendations and willingness to get vaccinated. Interventions are needed to improve critical thinking and trust in science to lower susceptibility to misinformation and ultimately vaccine hesitancy.
The spread of misinformation globally is especially rampant because of social media. This research study identified more than 2,300 instances of misinformation during the first six months of the pandemic. Inaccurate information was related to illness transmission and mortality, treatment and cure, and disease origin among other topics. Misinformation fueled by conspiracy theories, rumors, and stigma can have serious implications on individuals and communities when prioritized over evidence-based information.
This cross-sectional online study confirmed that exposure to COVID-19 misinformation resulted in misinformation belief, which led to enactment of fewer preventive behaviors. In order for public health strategies to be effective, they must first counter the proliferation of misinformation.
In this NPR story, we learn about how COVID-19 online support groups have taken it upon themselves to identify misinformation, fact-check claims, and educate others. The spread of misinformation online can mislead patients, create physical harm, and undermine trust in science and medicine, making this arduous task a very important one.
The harm created by COVID-19 misinformation can actually be deadly. In this commentary, the “tsunami of persistent misinformation to the public” led to greater numbers of positive cases and deaths because people did not follow public health precautions. Public leaders and social media influencers need to blunt the effect of the misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 response by:
- Coordinating a campaign of influencers supporting science and public health
- Working with government and social media companies to aggressively and transparently remove markedly false information
- Offering a robust public messaging campaign that dynamically interacts with the public
- Detecting and exposing COVID-19-related misinformation through data science and behavioral analytics
- Matching public health promises with the capabilities the government can deliver
Physicians are also well-positioned to diffuse the spread of misinformation. In this article, we learn several key strategies from those who have been successful against the infodemic:
- Use facts but don’t lecture
- Build relationships
- Focus on shared goals
- Don’t challenge core beliefs
- Meet people where they are
It is important for health professionals and government officials to communicate similar messages to combat social and traditional media’s circulation of negative and inaccurate information about COVID-19 because a recent research article has outlined the mental health risks from exposure, including depressive and post-traumatic symptoms. To mitigate the mental health effects of misinformation, the authors provide three main recommendations for government officials, health professionals, and public health authorities:
- Disseminate clear, authoritative communication
- Correct misinformation and address mistrust
- Provide specific warnings of the potential adverse mental health consequences of excessive COVID-19 media consumption
Beyond individuals, organizations need to step up and address misinformation. YouTube announced last week that it would remove videos containing information contrary to the World Health Organization and local health authorities about COVID-19 vaccines. This extends its current policy of not allowing videos of conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the pandemic to be aired.