Researchers call on federal strategy to combat health misinformation

Posted at 10:09 PM, Mar 23, 2021

Johns Hopkins University researchers released a report Tuesday that called on a national strategy to combat public health misinformation and disinformation now and in the future.

The researchers called public health misinformation “dangerous” and “damaging.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that health-related misinformation and disinformation can dangerously undermine the response to a public health crisis,” the researchers wrote. “Contradictory messaging and active subversion have reduced trust in public health responders, increased belief in false medical cures, and politicized public health measures aimed at curbing transmission of the disease. Setbacks in the COVID-19 response have highlighted that health-related misinformation or disinformation can lead to more infections, deaths, disruption, and disorganization of the effort.”

Amid the pandemic, a sizable number of Americans said they believed that coronavirus death counts were overinflated. During a Summer 2020 poll, Axios found that 31%, and a majority of Republican voters, thought that coronavirus death counts were overinflated.

The Johns Hopkins researchers have a four-point strategy for combating public health misinformation:

1) Intervene against false and damaging content as well as the sources propagating it
2) Promote and ensure the abundant presence and dissemination of factual information
3) Increase the public’s resilience to misinformation and disinformation
4) Ensure a whole-of-nation response through multisector and multiagency collaboration

As part of its report, the researchers said that the National Security Council should “be responsible for developing and overseeing a US strategy for preventing and responding to health-related misinformation and disinformation in public health emergencies, drawing on existing federal agency efforts, expertise, and implementation capabilities.”

The study found that misinformation has not just been an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also been a problem for public health officials during other crisis.

“Previous epidemics have demonstrated that health misinformation occurs across a range of settings and contexts,” the researchers wrote. “Ebola-related misinformation amid conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent years has contributed to violence in the region, led to attacks on medical personnel, and hindered the ability for healthcare workers and community health workers to help affected populations.”

To read the full report, click here.