Coronavirus (947) WHO: Immunizing the public against misinformation

26 August, 2020

Extracts and a comment from me below. Full text here: https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/immunizing-the-publ...

25 August 2020

To learn more about how WHO is taking on the infodemic fight, the United Nations Foundation caught up with Tim Nguyen on the sidelines of the world’s first infodemiology conference, which brought together world experts to discuss the developing science of managing infodemics. Nguyen’s team manages the Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN), which is leading WHO work on managing infodemics.

“Infodemics have already happened in one way or another in past epidemics, but what’s happening right now is something of a global scale, where people are connected through different means and share information more quickly,” Nguyen said. “This has created a new situation where we are rethinking and reshaping our approach to managing infodemics in emergencies.”

According to a recent study evaluating English-language misinformation, the largest category of posts labeled as false or misleading by fact-checkers was content that deliberately challenged or questioned policies and actions of public officials, governments, and international institutions such as the United Nations and WHO...

Such content can erode public trust in the very organizations leading the fight against COVID-19...

WHO is working with an analytics company to incorporate social listening into its public health messaging development — a first for the Organization. Each week, the company reviews 1.6 million pieces of information on various social media platforms, then uses machine learning to conduct searches based on a newly developed public health taxonomy to categorize information into four topics: the cause, the illness, the interventions, and the treatment. This helps WHO track public health topics that are gaining popularity and develop and tailor health messages in a timely way. Examples include “How does a pandemic end?” and “How do we know when we have a second wave of the virus?”...

“What we’ve learned now, after two and a half months of doing this kind of analysis, is that there are recurring themes and topics that are coming back over and over again,” Nguyen said. “What that means to us is that we need to re-push information at different times. People may not understand it the first time when we push it, but when the questions and issues come up later, it means it’s time to push it out again.”...

“You need to have a certain degree of good information out there to reach populations so that they are inoculated and not susceptible to fake news or disinformation,” Nguyen said. “We believe we need to vaccinate 30% of the population with “good information,” in order to have a certain degree of ‘herd” immunity against misinformation.”...

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COMMENT (NPW): It's interesting that an infodemic is defined by WHO as an overabundance of accurate and inaccurate information, but that the central component of the 'cure' is to push more accurate information. It would be interesting also to understand more about 'social listening' and how this guides response. The text suggests that listening can simply identify misinformation that can then be addressed with factual information. Can machine learning go beyond this to identify social and cultural determinants of misinformation, and the types of communication that give rise to it (WhatsApp in particular has been identified as a catalyst)?

Best wishes, Neil

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