As a follow-up to our work on social media analysis of communicating public health, we have worked with the Carnegie UK Trust on the implications of online communication for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. A special issue of Big Data & Society was commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to explore the topic and FCC produced an article exploring some of the implications for policymakers, practitioners and public health bodies.
What is the COVID-19 Infodemic?
From the WHO: “The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in history in which technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed, productive and connected. At the same time, the technology we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.
“An infodemic is an overabundance of information, both online and offline. It includes deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information to undermine the public health response and advance alternative agendas of groups or individuals. Mis- and disinformation can be harmful to people’s physical and mental health; increase stigmatization; threaten precious health gains; and lead to poor observance of public health measures, thus reducing their effectiveness and endangering countries’ ability to stop the pandemic.”
Our work at Carnegie UK Trust to develop a statutory duty of care for online harm reduction has focused on how a systemic approach to regulation of social media platforms can reduce the risk of harm to users of those platforms. This risk-based approach, focusing on the service design rather than individual items of content, applies as much to the public health harms that arise from the spread of mis/disinformation as it does to illegal activity (such as terrorism or hate crime) or the prevalence of online scams. As Parliament prepares for pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Online Safety Bill, this paper is a valuable contribution to the evidence base for the inclusion of public health harms, such as Covid-19 misinformation, that have a societal as well as an individual impact. Maeve Walsh, Carnegie UK Trust