Misinformation and disinformation in relation to COVID-19
Question: What is currently known about misinformation and disinformation in relation to COVID-19?
- Misinformation: “Information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading. Unlike disinformation,
misinformation does not necessarily need to be created deliberately to mislead. Misinformation is sometimes used to refer exclusively to inaccuracies that are accidental; however, since it is difficult to ascertain the intentions of the unknown individuals who create falsehoods that spread on the internet, we use misinformation as a broader umbrella term here.” (1)
- Disinformation: “Information that is false or inaccurate, and that was created with a deliberate intention to mislead people.” (1)
- Infodemic: “An “infodemic” is an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that occurs during an epidemic. It spreads between humans in a similar manner to an epidemic, via digital and physical information systems. It makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” (2)
Summary of Included Resources
This rapid review includes three reviews of the evidence, 29 individual studies, and six other relevant documents (e.g., a report or handbook). Articles published until 5 March 2021 are included. In addition, we identified 10 relevant websites and a total of 10 funded research projects with lead researchers based in ON (5), QC (2), and one each in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Alberta. We may have missed some resources due to the rapid timeframe for this review.
- Published: June 16, 2021
What do we know?
People are regularly exposed to misinformation, and this can have serious impacts on public health (e.g., due to non-compliance with public health guidance, vaccine hesitancy, mental health impacts, and use of non-recommended treatments). Factors that are associated with susceptibility to misinformation include younger age, lower income, and lower levels of trust and numeracy. Strategies to address misinformation include ‘nudging’ (structuring choices in a way that influences behaviour), improving health literacy, and monitoring and debunking misinformation.
What are the notable gaps?
- There is a lack of high-level evidence (i.e., evidence from systematic reviews, meta-analysis, or rapid reviews) focused on infodemics or misinformation globally as well as for Canadian contexts.•
- We did not identify any qualitative studies that collected data on the users’ perspective and considered how this data can be used to improve the public health response.
- “Our review highlights the paucity of studies on the application of machine learning on social media data related to COVID‑19 and a lack of studies documenting realtime surveillance developed with social media data on COVID-19” (3).
- “Studies evaluating effective counter-infodemic interventions are also needed (3).
What is on the horizon? What are the studies that are underway to address the gaps?
There are currently 10 ongoing Canadian studies looking at misinformation. For example, Dr. Syed at York University is analyzing the viral character and effectsof social media misinformation. Other ongoing studies look at how to best address misinformation such as: Dr. Caulfield’s research at the University of Alberta looking at mapping and countering misinformation; research led by Dr. Fafard at the University of Ottawa includes comparative research related to communication and how misinformation is addressed in five different countries, including Canada. Dr. Fahim, Unity Health Toronto, will look into combating misinformation, fear, and stigma in collaboration with researchers from Singapore; Dr. Gillis, University of Toronto, will look at responding to stigma, fear, discrimination, and misinformation; Dr Parsons, Dalhousie University, will look at how to best educate, engage and empower the public; and Dr. Veletsianos, Royal Roads University will look at inoculating against an infodemic. Two other studies (Dr. Dubé, University of Laval and Dr Genereux, University of Sherbrooke) are examining the behavioural factors affecting the communities’ response. Finally, research led by Dr. Kennedy, York University, is related to understandingsocial perceptions of risk, information sources, trust, and public engagement related to the COVID‑19 outbreak.