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Recap: Mediactive Conversation on Tackling Health Misinformation

Kristy Roschke, Dan Gillmor, Jamie Winterton, Anna Muldoon and others have a discussion on health disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy and ways to combat the spread of these on an individual level. (You can view the discussion on YouTube here.)

Anna Muldoon touches on the anti-vaccine moment that expanded in the 90s and 2000s– stating even now, “10% [of people] still believe vaccines cause autism.” The rise of health misinformation during the pandemic has presented a problem for the general public and government to deal with–part of the answer is in teaching media literacy.

Dan Gillmor brings up the idea of “context” and the importance of context in journalism. He calls for journalists to do a better job of context through headlines. For instance, he uses a headline he saw as an example, which stated “California leads in infections”. However, California is the most populous U.S. state. It’s logical that the state would have the most infections. Context is what is important here.

Under the same umbrella of headlines, Anna Muldoon recommends media users should learn how to recognize language in headlines. In other words, does the headline’s purpose serve to entice users emotionally–to anger? Is the headline relevant to the contents of the article? Recognizing these aspects of “clickbait” is important before sharing articles. This could help minimize the spread of misinformation.

Jamie Winterton also recommends users to pause when they see angering information on social media. Disinformation campaigns thrive on emotionally driven content that is meant to divide and cause users to engage with the content. By pausing, you’re able to think clearly and assess the situation.

Both Jamie Winterton and Anna Muldoon recommend using emotional control with those family members or friends who have shared misinformation or those who have perhaps fallen victim to conspiracy theories. Anna Muldoon says this is a social issue–meaning, we need to learn how to talk to one another, show empathy and have conversations that are productive; outright telling someone that the information they believe is wrong, will not really change that person’s mind. Relationships are important to combatting the spread of misinformation.

Disinformation is a different beast all together. Jamie Winterton states that foreign adversaries feed off of “hot” social issues such as vaccine distrust; they take this information and use it to implement disinformation campaigns to divide the country, stating it “whittles away at the fundamentals of democracy.”

Overall, panelists agree we need better stories–whether journalism, scientific articles, discussions–that will help in the combatting health misinformation and disinformation.

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