5 recommendations on cutting through the COVID social media ‘infodemic’

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Credit: Mary McKean

Here are five recommendations based on our research about medical misinformation at the Shorenstein Center:

Debunking every rumor, every conspiracy theory, and all political punditry exhausts critical resources. Furthermore, there has been a deluge of requests for interviews with medical personnel and public health advocates. Health communicators should establish a monitoring protocol to decide which misinformation is gaining traction and approaching a tipping point, such as when misinformation moves across platforms or someone newsworthy, such as a politician or celebrity, distributes it.

We recommend routinely checking the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rumor database and Google’s fact-checking database of recently debunked news stories. Scan comments posted to local social media groups and public messaging apps, such as Nextdoor. Keep a log of comments the organization receives via social media accounts, telephone, or e-mail. Importantly, no one should respond to misinformation unless there is good reason to do so and they have a plan for communicating it publicly. It is recommended not to respond to individuals but rather to debunk major misinformation themes.

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It is crucial… that health communication professionals understand the limitations of social media and actively work to mitigate misinformation to lessen the harms caused by unchecked scams, hoaxes, and conspiracies; the public must be able to access timely, local, and relevant information when they need it most.

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