Health Misinformation And How To Curb It
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified what has been present for years – medical misinformation on the internet and social media. According to reports from NBC News, examples of fake news that have circulated across the internet include berries, which are more effective than vaccines at fighting various infections, ginger, which is more effective than chemotherapy at treating cancer, and Covid- Vaccines that cause harm and death to children and pregnant women. Given the high use of health misinformation and its potential to impact public health and education, clear strategies to combat misinformation must be implemented. Below are a few to consider.
The general public needs to know and understand important public health policies and recommendations made by expert panels and governing bodies. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 5 adults has not heard about the Covid-19 Bivalent Booster. It should come as no surprise, then, that just over 16% of eligible Americans have received this booster shot. While there are likely many reasons for this, the low uptake of the Covid booster shot underscores the importance of getting clear messages across to the American public about the importance, effectiveness and availability of the vaccine. This should be consistently carried out by the federal government in press conferences, news media and local community events such as town hall meetings.
Public health experts need to guide the narrative
Imagine you had a sick dog that required life-saving surgery to survive. You would probably consult an experienced veterinarian who has spent their career gaining expertise in caring for dogs to get the best possible care for your dog. Likewise when it comes to public health policy and practice; Expert scientists, physicians and public health officials should be leading news and media narratives using evidence-based data. For example, in the case of monkeypox, trained and reputable epidemiologists, scientists, and physicians studying and treating this virus should be the ones invited to the media and local town meetings to educate the public about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. These experts must not be shy and must use all of their resources, including social media platforms, to educate the public using the most scientifically rigorous, evidence-based guidelines yet developed.
Blame social media platforms for misinformation
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans often or sometimes get their news from social media. This is potentially worrying as anyone, expert or amateur, can post whatever they want on social media. This can open the door to the spread of misinformation, especially when posts go viral. To curb this, these platforms should and must monitor misinformation on a regular basis. In particular, machine learning algorithms and human resources should be used to ensure that errors and unfounded information on important issues such as public health are not spread. Additionally, social media platforms can expand evidence-based knowledge from trusted, respected experts to inform the many Americans who use social media as a news source. These platforms should also weaken financial incentives for accounts that spread misinformation and hold them accountable by mandating the use of real-name accounts, which should reduce the number of fake accounts that potentially spread false information.
Increase health and media literacy
A crucial part of a modern American education is the development of critical and analytical skills in analyzing information. Educational programs in elementary schools and universities should teach health and media literacy as important life skills that are commonly used. Understanding and analyzing the credibility of sources, whether data is supported by evidence, and reporting bias are all important when analyzing information that may affect public health practice. The more robustly our educational programs address them, the more likely the general public will be able to spot misinformation when it is brought before them.
Tackling health misinformation takes a village. If this is not done, the consequences can be devastating – including but not limited to reduced public acceptance of life-saving treatments and procedures.
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