By Dr. Karyn Hargett, The Old North State Medical Society
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, institutions and organizations have worked to inform the public about the best ways to keep themselves and their families safe. At every point during the process, there have been competing and conflicting messages about social distancing, shelter-in-place guidance, wearing masks, and getting vaccinated to protect against the virus.
Throughout the pandemic, many informative conversations about public health and public safety quickly turned into political battles about free speech and/or mask mandate resistance.
Traditional media outlets were often disparaged or ignored, while misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic and mitigating measures to reduce the spread of the virus ran rampant on social media.
Here are definitions to clarify common terminology about inaccurate content shared online:
- Misinformation is false information shared by people who do not intend to mislead others.
- Disinformation is false information deliberately created and disseminated with malicious intent.
Because a lot of information shared online is promoted through influencer circles – posted by family, friends, or notable celebrity and public figures – the credibility and trustworthiness of research, science, and official institutions took a back seat; instead favoring rumors and myths based on individual opinions. The misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines have focused on topics such as vaccine development, safety, and effectiveness, as well as COVID-19 denialism.
If you’re seeking accurate and reliable information about COVID-19 and the best ways to reduce transmission of the virus and to prevent severe illness or death from the variants, it’s important to seek out trusted sources such as physicians, established scientific and research centers – and credible news organizations that present objective facts and information without a political bias or agenda.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following guidance to recognize and address misinformation about COVID-19:
- Listen to and analyze misinformation circulating in your community through social and traditional media monitoring.
- Share accurate, clear, and easy-to-find information that addresses common questions.
- Use trusted messengers to boost credibility and the likelihood of being seen and believed over misinformation.
Some people may not trust public health professionals or visit the health department website, so it’s more effective to reach them through the channels and sources they look to and trust for health information, such as religious leaders or community organizations.
Dr. Karyn Hargett is a pediatrician based in Jacksonville, NC, and the acting medical director for the non-profit Old North State Medical Society. After completing her pediatric residency at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, NY, she relocated to Jacksonville, where she is an independent practitioner, traveling pediatrician, and part-owner of the inventive telemedicine organization RoweDocs, where she is one of many physicians who provide telemedicine services. Currently, Dr. Hargett has pivoted from pediatrics to dedicating her energy, resources, and platforms to mitigating COVID-19; ensuring equity in its prevention and treatment among marginalized communities and among children.