Environment of Misinformation
Health-related misinformation and disinformation presents a significant and growing threat to public health’s historical successes, current efforts to bring health threats under control, and ability to successfully operate in future health emergencies. Misinformation and disinformation undermine trust in public health authorities, often promoting narratives that make effective response to public health emergencies more difficult. The spread of misleading or false information will occur in future public health emergencies, and although each emergency is unique, some themes may be expected.
Public health officials must anticipate problems, plan for effective communication to pre-bunk and de-bunk health-related misinformation and disinformation during public health emergencies, and be prepared to successfully convey scientific information during periods when actively misleading information is abundant. New research efforts and innovations are needed to establish anticipatory and practical communication solutions and advance the science of risk communication and infodemiology. The Center for Health Security works to combat health-related misinformation and disinformation by conducting research, identifying best practices, educating public health professionals and policymakers, and furthering policy solutions to the problem.
The project team is working on several misinformation-related efforts:
- A project focusing on trust in public health preparedness and response that uses a mixed methods approach to establish (i) an evidence base for understanding likely misinformation as well as for developing communication approaches that improve public trust; (ii) a framework for predicting and planning for future health-related misinformation and an evidence-based intervention with anticipatory message components to improve trust; (iii) an evaluation of approaches developed through this research; (iv) recommendations for public health communication and practice; (v) training materials to increase the communications skills and capacities of health departments and communities; and (vi) a community of practice with local and state public health officials and communicators that also can vet project materials. (CDC)
- A project with a broader health-related misinformation focus aiming to develop a casebook of misinformation-related interventions. This casebook will be designed to help policymakers and practitioners review critical components of successful response efforts. (JHU Catalyst)
- A project involving a scoping review and analysis of how key groups—including federal, state, and local agencies and national organizations—are addressing infodemics. (NASEM)
- An effort working to understand similarities and differences among US mainstream, US right-wing, and Russian news media, focusing on a rumor about Ukrainian bioweapon labs.
Past work conducted on misinformation includes:
- Investigation of health-related misinformation in the context of public health emergencies by analyzing tweets about Ebola.
- Sell TK, Hosangadi D, Trotochaud M. Misinformation and the US Ebola communication crisis: analyzing the veracity and content of social media messages related to a fear-inducing infectious disease outbreak. BMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):550.
- Analysis of tweets about masks and vaccines in the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Trotochaud M, Smith E, Hosangadi D, Sell TK. Analyzing social media messages about masks and vaccines: a case study on misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disaster Med and Pub Health Prep. January 10, 2023. doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2023.16
- Proposal for developing a national strategy to address mis- and disinformation surrounding COVID-19 and future emergencies.
- Sell TK, Hosangadi D, Smith E, et al. National Priorities to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation for COVID-19 and Future Public Health Threats: A Call for a National Strategy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; 2021.
- Economic analysis to outline the costs of misinformation related non-vaccination.
- Bruns R, Hosangadi D, Trotochaud M, Sell TK. COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation and Disinformation Costs an Estimated $50 to $300 Million Each Day. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; 2021.
Project team lead: Tara Kirk Sell, PhD, MA
Project team: Erin Fink, MS; Noelle Huhn, MSPH; Aishwarya Nagar, MPH; Hannah Ottman-Feeney; Christina Potter, MSPH; Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS
Students: Courtney De Balmann; Amelia Jamison, MPH, MA; Sarah-Louise Pasquino; Maximillian Schwartz; Annie Sundelson, MSc; Ruth Grace Wong
Past contributors: Richard Bruns, PhD; Arielle D’Souza; Divya Hosangadi, MSPH; Ellie Smith, MSPH; Marc Trotochaud, MSPH
Project supported by:
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Johns Hopkins University Catalyst Award
- National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM)
- Open Philanthropy (past funding support)
Medical and Public Health Preparedness and Response
Deliberate Biological Threats