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Online COVID-19 misinformation has undermined the adoption of behaviors that can prevent infection. A new study took a close look at online messages about COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.
The researchers found that there was initially less COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook and Twitter than misinformation about other medical topics.
Questionable health information is nothing new to social media. Unsupported opinions and companies’ claims about the benefits of their health products are common.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, health experts have recommended a series of behaviors designed to keep ourselves and others safe, including hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing — as well as vaccination, once vaccines became available.
Misinformation has persuaded some to ignore this guidance. And on February 15, 2020, World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the spreading of misinformation as an “infodemic.”
The new study purports to be the first to compare the amount of COVID-19 misinformation with the amount of other health misinformation. The lead author, Prof. David Broniatowski, explained in a George Washington University press release:
“At the start of the pandemic, governments and organizations around the world started paying attention to the problem of health misinformation online. […] But when you compare it to what was going on before the pandemic, you start to see that health misinformation was already widespread. What changed is that, when COVID-19 hit, governments and social media platforms started paying attention and taking action.”
The study has been published in PLOS ONE.