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How do we combat misinformation?

For several months now, health professionals and patients have not only had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also with an “infodemic” caused by misinformation and disinformation. Numerous false rumours abound in the media and on social networks: for example, it is wrongly affirmed that masks are ineffective and may increase the risk of infection, and that anti- COVID-19 vaccines cause the illness or contain tracking devices… Three American researchers have proposed a model to counter or limit this disinformation.

This model is based on 3 elements: real-time surveillance, precise diagnosis and rapid responses by scientists.

  • Real-time surveillance: it is necessary to put a system of careful monitoring in place before dangerous information goes viral. This surveillance system could be activated in response to deviations according to pre-defined markers and thresholds.
  • Precise diagnosis of disinformation: scientists should respond to important questions before the media or social networks seize on subjects such as the disease’s origins, transmission, diagnosis, means of prevention, treatment or vaccination. In the face of all the false information that is currently circulating, it is important to be able to provide a precise analysis of misinformation so that it can be effectively countered.
  • A rapid response: this allows false information to be stopped in its tracks before it gets out of hand. Some erroneous theories can be predicted, such as those concerning vaccination. It was foreseeable that deaths that followed vaccination but were causally unrelated would allow claims to be made that vaccines were dangerous.

Since lies tend to spread faster than accurate information, it is important to quickly counter false information with accurate scientific arguments and facts. Several studies have shown that if disinformation is not quickly rebuffed, it can remain in the collective memory for a long time.

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