Novel coronavirus (29) Reuters: Fake news makes disease outbreaks worse

17 February, 2020

Extracts below. Full text here:


The rise of "fake news" - including misinformation and inaccurate advice on social media - could make disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic currently spreading in China worse, according to research published on Friday.

In an analysis of how the spread of misinformation affects the spread of disease, scientists at Britain's East Anglia University (UEA) said any successful efforts to stop people sharing fake news could help save lives.

"When it comes to COVID-19 [coronavirus], there has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the internet – about how the virus originated, what causes it and how it is spread," said Paul Hunter, a UEA professor of medicine who co-led the study... "worryingly, people are more likely to share bad advice on social media than good advice from trusted sources".


Here are the citation and abstract of one of the papers:

CITATION: Misinformation making a disease outbreak worse: outcomes compared for influenza, monkeypox, and norovirus. Simulation journal.

Julii Brainard, Paul R Hunter

First Published November 12, 2019


Health misinformation can exacerbate infectious disease outbreaks. Especially pernicious advice could be classified as “fake news”: manufactured with no respect for accuracy and often integrated with emotive or conspiracy-framed narratives. We built an agent-based model that simulated separate but linked circulating contagious disease and sharing of health advice (classified as useful or harmful). Such advice has potential to influence human risk-taking behavior and therefore the risk of acquiring infection, especially as people are more likely in observed social networks to share bad advice. We test strategies proposed in the recent literature for countering misinformation. Reducing harmful advice from 50% to 40% of circulating information, or making at least 20% of the population unable to share or believe harmful advice, mitigated the influence of bad advice in the disease outbreak outcomes. How feasible it is to try to make people “immune” to misinformation or control spread of harmful advice should be explored.


Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: