COVID-19: Mitigating the Infodemic

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Nurses can change the tide when they have a thorough understanding of the factors driving the misinformation as well as the motivations of those spreading the misinformation. This knowledge equips the nurses to respond to patients and members of the community who present with inaccurate information, confusion, and mistrust towards public health intervention recommendations including social distancing, masking and most importantly, vaccination. This understanding will empower nurses to stay empathetic but effective in mitigating the effects of misinformation or disinformation

by Mary Kiriaku Mary Kiriaku (New)

Specializes in Pediatric nursing. Has 7 years experience.

How can nurses turn the COVID pandemic tide?

COVID-19: Mitigating the Infodemic

Mitigating the Infodemic

It would seem like COVID 19 is unrelenting in throwing new curve balls on every turn: new variants, vaccine side effects, divisive politics, mistrust of the health care systems and other issues have all led to a prolonged season of uncertainty. The pandemic has brought other challenges that healthcare systems and public health agencies have not dealt with in such magnitudes for a long time. Misinformation and disinformation have been persistent throughout the pandemic and have greatly affected timely public responses to recommended disease prevention interventions including masking, social distancing and most importantly, vaccinations.

Despite the prolonged battle, nurses have remained at the very front line in the fight against the pandemic and continue to have a significant opportunity to make a difference in mitigating the negative impact of misinformation and disinformation. Nurses interact with members of the community at all levels in the healthcare spectrum. They are the backbone for wellness clinics, hospitals, school clinics, public health agencies, and even the most acute intensive care units. Individual nurses as well as nurse teams need to stay up to date and acquire competence in managing emerging knowledge about COVID 19, response interventions as well as the dynamics of how information is received and consumed by the public.

Infodemic

The term infodemic came to be during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic and coined by David J Rothkopf (2003) in a Washington post1 to describe the phenomenon of excessive information, both accurate and inaccurate.

In August 2020, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) produced a resource pack2 outlining the issue of infodemia and provided guidelines on how to counter online misinformation. In this document, the term has been used to describe an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution. With an infodemic, false claims circulate more easily, hampering public health responses, creating confusion, distrust and causing harm to people’s lives. The spread of misinformation, disinformation, rumors, and propaganda during a health crisis such as the COVID 19 pandemic negatively affects public health responses. This has been one of the most persistent and complex challenges in implementing COVID 19 interventions for prevention. Interestingly, it’s not just the presence of too much information that causes problems but also the cultural and structural contexts in which the information is received. Some people are more vulnerable to receiving and consuming low quality or false information than others.

World Health Organization (WHO) conducted its first ever conference on infodemiology in early June 20203. This was in acknowledgement of the fact that misinformation and mixed messages overwhelm individuals, communities, governments, and public health agencies in combating the COVID 19 pandemic and indeed, any other public health crisis. On the discussion on infodemic management, the conference raised the question and provided a basis for continued conversations on the subject:

“How would we know if we have successfully mitigated/slowed down an infodemic? When communities and individuals are empowered to be resilient against misinformation and have the skills and self-efficacy to recognize low-quality information and enact healthy behaviors. We will be successful when behaviors at all levels - individual, community, society, health system, government, and so on - have shifted to resist misinformation and act on and propagate accurate health guidance to flatten the epidemic curve.

The global fight against the COVID-19 infodemic should be treated as a scientific discipline on par with understanding the spread of the disease itself, since behavior change is critical to every pandemic response. During an epidemic, health authorities lean on the science of epidemiology to inform management and response activities: monitoring an outbreak response and implementing epidemic management interventions. Health authorities urgently need evidence-based infodemic management tools and interventions, informed by cross-disciplinary infodemiology research.”

Motivations Behind the Decision to Share Misinformation

According to a document produced by UNICEF to guide the public on managing misinformation there are several factors that can lead individuals to distribute or share inaccurate messages.

  • Lack of accurate information can lead to an information vacuum and create space for misinformation when too many sources and individuals are trying to explain the situation and offer solutions without evidence of efficacy. This often happens early in an epidemic when not much is known, and research is underway.
  • Social media context can cause people to be focused on social validation and reinforcement (be seen as being in the know) leading them to be distracted from paying attention to accuracy.
  • People are more inclined to accept and share information if it’s simple and clear at the expense of complex but accurate.
  • Trust in the source of the information such as an authority or clergy.
  • Message aligns with pre beliefs.
  • Message resonates emotionally.
  • People are more susceptible to misinformation when they are frightened and uncertain.
  • Propaganda and political agenda.
  • Commercialization of the inaccurate information or products/services deemed preventive or remedial.

Nurses can change the tide when they have a thorough understanding of the factors driving the misinformation as well as the motivations of those spreading the misinformation. This knowledge equips the nurses to respond to patients and members of the community who present with inaccurate information, confusion, and mistrust towards public health intervention recommendations including social distancing, masking and most importantly, vaccination. This understanding will empower nurses to stay empathetic but effective in mitigating the effects of misinformation or disinformation.


References

1Managing the modern infodemic

2Countering Online Misinformation Resource Pack

31st WHO Infodemiology Conference

Mary Kiriaku is a registered nurse with 17 years of nursing experience. She has held different nursing roles including nurse educator in the Neonatal intensive Care Unit (NICU), case management, utilization review and currently as an independent nurse provider for medically fragile infants in foster care. Nursing is a second career after teaching high school biology. Her first degree was in biology with a minor in chemistry. She completed a post graduate diploma in education and taught high school biology for 2 years before going back to school for a degree in nursing. She completed a master’s in science specializing in pediatric nursing in 2008. She has enjoyed writing on different subjects and for different purposes for as long as she can remember. Its only recently that she has finally decided to pursue health content writing as a career. She is the founder and CEO of Pennedhealthcontent@waturi,LLC She specializes in pediatric health content, blogs, copywriting, patient education material, web page content among others. Website www.waturijohnsonrnwriter.com

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1 Comment(s)

toomuchbaloney

Has 43 years experience.

We can see clearly in the USA that a good many people have been confused by well financed propaganda campaigns that increase confusion and concern about covid vaccines coming from FOX and other right wing commentators scattered across cable and radio programming.  That campaign created a health system crushing wall of illness that has nearly collapsed our economy.  

To many nurses are actively among the indoctrinated.