To Save Lives, Kill Misinformation

  • Social media sites must act with urgency to eradicate vaccine misinformation and weed out rogue accounts. Sites like Facebook and Twitter use highly sophisticated algorithms to deliver or block content. Better enforcement of their own standards will help.
  • Policymakers should consider every option to promote online platforms’ accountability and protect people during a public health emergency. Federal legislation has been introduced to do just that, by stripping social media sites of liability protections if their platforms are used to spread misinformation.
  • The government can also enlist trusted messengers to reinforce the safety and efficacy of vaccines. For example, the White House is working with pop stars and other influential figures on TikTok to reach young people with accurate information about vaccines. (I wasn’t aware of Olivia Rodrigo until she teamed up with President Biden and Dr. Fauci to promote vaccines, but she’s extremely influential among young people, who have the lowest vaccination rates of any eligible age group.)
  • Health care providers can serve as trusted messengers. Research shows that people trust their own doctors and pharmacists for accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines. The de Beaumont Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials have developed a useful guide for health care professionals to address patients’ concerns with effective messaging. And we can all encourage people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated to talk through their concerns with a trusted health care provider.
  • Academic institutions and community-based organizations can help spread the word. For example, CUNY School of Public Health has launched the New York State Vaccine Education and Adoption Project. The project is working with community-based organizations in New York City and surrounding counties to address vaccine literacy and hesitancy. And the Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS) is working with health centers throughout the State to encourage vaccination among patients who are hesitant to do so, using messaging developed by the CUNY project and others to address concerns sparked by misinformation.
  • Everyone can avoid spreading misinformation. It may be tempting to quote a tweet or share a post in order to rebut it, but doing so reinforces the misinformation. Don’t give oxygen to the lies; stick to the facts and promote only scientifically credible information.

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David Sandman

David Sandman

David Sandman, Ph.D., is President and CEO of the New York Health Foundation. www.nyhealthfoundation.org www.twitter.com/DavidSandman1