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Experts need ‘multifaceted approach,’ including video, to counter health misinformation

News
Article

Wrong claims exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interventions helped spread the facts and create a base for future efforts.

family coronavirus news media headlines © zimmytws - stock.adobe.com

© zimmytws - stock.adobe.com

Correcting wrong claims and bad advice is a complicated task when people rely on social media for news and medical advice.

A study of informational interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic found room for improvement for public health experts to counteract falsities.

“Health misinformation, similar to any public health issue, requires a multifaceted approach,” said the study, “A Systematic Review of COVID-19 Misinformation Interventions: Lessons Learned,” published in Health Affairs.

Researchers examined 50 papers published from Jan. 1, 2020, to Feb. 24, 2023, analyzing conspiracy theories, such as vaccines containing microchips, and unproven claims, such as gargling with saltwater to prevent COVID-19.

“Governments, public health authorities, and social media platforms have employed various measures to curb the spread of misleading COVID-19 information,” the study said. While social media giants Facebook, X and YouTube have been reluctant to share relevant data, researchers in the United States and other countries have generated academic studies of the effects of widespread falsehoods.

The bad news: “There is no silver bullet for mitigating health misinformation,” the study said. But there are measures that could help scientists, government authorities and news media disseminate accurate messages to the public, the study said.

  • Public health experts should be involved in interventions. That will require breaking down research silos, possibly through funding measures or workshops and conferences to spur researchers, policy makers, community leaders and health officials to work together.
  • Consistent outcome measures should be developed. The researchers noted a lack of consistency in naming and measuring outcomes.
  • Visual formats must be included. Given the rise of YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, visual and video information travels faster than text. “There is an immediate need for more studies testing video-based health misinformation interventions,” the study said.
  • Researchers must codevelop a typology of misinformation. “COVID-19 misinformation is not monolithic,” the study said. Wrong claims may be explicit or implied, and sources have different levels of credibility. Inconsistent definitions weaken the results of intervention studies.
  • Interventions need global testing. Researchers found a strong bias toward interventions tested in the United States, but those may not work in other parts of the world.
  • More longitudinal research is needed. Most of the interventions examined measured effects over a period of weeks, not a longer term.
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