When it comes to sharing information, speed can kill. The COVID-19 pandemic is the first real global public health crisis where the speed of sharing information via social media channels has detrimentally impacted the health and lives of many. A 2016 study by Gabielkov et al published in ACM, found that sixty percent of the links found on social media are shared without even opening the link to read, review or question the validity of the content.
Dr. Cailen O’Connor, associate professor of logic and philosophy of science at UC Irvine and co-author of The Misinformation Age indicates that, “because scientists and journalists are working so fast and information is travelling so fast, if a new study is shared before being peer reviewed it has a greater chance of being retracted.” According to John Finnegan, Dean and Professor at University of Minnesota School of Public Health, host for the Health In All Matters “A Misinformation Pandemic” podcast, a Hong Kong newspaper article talking to new evidence on the airborne transmission of COVID-19 was shared over 50,000 times the day the article was published. The study was retracted the next day leaving the inaccurate information available for further circulation.
This is in part the difficulty of ensuring the public believes and trusts the information being shared and public health policies being developed and effectively implemented. The pandemic has been a crash course for expanding our knowledge of infection control. The inability to differentiate between misinformation, disinformation or the truth can be difficult, even for experts. Gary Schwitzer, publisher and founder of HealthNewsReview.org uses five strategies to determine if the information we are reading is credible:
- If it sounds too good to be true it almost always is,
- Never believe one story, one study, or one expert,
- Consider the expert source and who stands to benefit then look for independent sources,
- With any intervention there are trade-offs-if harms are not being discussed, you are getting an incomplete story,
- If you ever hear about a “simple test”, run for the hills. There is no such thing.
When it comes to misinformation, the further content spreads from the source, the less it looks like a lie. It is in our nature to want to find a cure, a solution, or an explanation to make the fact the pandemic is a marathon and not a sprint more palatable and manageable. It is in our nature to share information that we feel provides a solution. However, this does not mean we are stuck with a future of misinformation. We can all work together to share an abundance of correct information and when we are reading news articles and content on our own social channels use Schwitzer’s 5 Tips and think twice before sharing.
Don’t be a Misinformation-Disinformation pusher, be an Information Pandemic Pusher like me!
PS – Psst….Do you need any wipes? Masks? Hand sanitizer? I can hook you up!