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Attending MisinfoCon 7.0: A Summit on Misinformation in Health Communication

Posted by on April 27th, 2020 Posted in: The MAReport

Already familiar with MisinfoCon? Skip ahead to read our top 10 takeaways from MisinfoCon 7.0.

Kelsey Cowles

Kelsey Cowles

In a digital world where information spreads around the world in seconds, the ongoing issue of misinformation deserves serious attention – especially since false, misleading, or unfounded information sometimes spreads more quickly and easily than reliable information. In 2017, three groups – The First Draft Coalition, The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and Hacks/Hackers – joined forces to address misinformation at a summit. MisinfoCon: A Summit on Misinformation took place on the MIT campus and included lectures, interactive workshops, and facilitated conversations. The event sought to “bring together ambassadors from technology platforms, news organizations, as well as experts in social science, media literacy, policy, advocacy, cybersecurity…software developers, designers, librarians, academics and actual, honest-to-goodness ‘real people’ that are impacted by misinformation” (Brooks). Uniquely, this event also included a “Creative Studio,” which featured live demos of relevant media tools, town hall meetings discussing approaches to misinformation, and other interactive platforms

Tess Wilson

Tess Wilson

Building on the success of this summit, several similar events have taken place around the world. The most recent iteration, MisinfoCon 7.0 in Washington, D.C., was hosted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM) and featured a diverse group of attendees including academic researchers, corporate and nonprofit representatives, government employees, and information professionals, all brought together by a shared interest in combating the particularly concerning problem of online health misinformation. This event also featured a version of the Creative Studio in the form of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon.

The NNLM MAR staff was particularly excited about MisinfoCon 7.0’s focus on health misinformation. We were eager to learn what more we can do to help counter health misinformation and grateful for the opportunity to participate in important conversations about its origins, spread, and repercussions. Many of the experts at this conference focused on three major areas of health misinformation: climate change, vaccine skepticism, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelsey Cowles, Academic Coordinator, and Tess Wilson, Community Engagement Coordinator, were able to attend this interactive event, and put together a list of takeaways for our members.

Top 10 Takeaways:

  1. NASEM has published a number of reports and proceedings on health literacy and science communication. NASEM also runs Based on Science, a website that answers common questions about science and health.
    Learn more by watching Kara Laney, NASEM
  2. In a digital world where information spreads around the world in seconds, the ongoing issue of misinformation deserves serious attention – especially since false, misleading, or unfounded information sometimes spreads more quickly and easily than reliable information. In the academic sphere, incorporating current events discussion into the classroom can create a bridge between the subject matter and its related media environment, increasing students’ connection to the material.
    Learn more by watching Kristy Carver Roschke, Arizona State University
  3. While much advice about effective science communication focuses on the need to create easily understandable and exciting media, research has shown that communications that are clear and simple can increase confidence more than they increase actual knowledge, while more nuanced (or even confusing) presentations of the same material can increase knowledge more than confidence. It is therefore important to find balance between engaging and informing the audience.
    Learn more by watching Adam Cole, freelance science journalist
  4. We know a number of things about misinformation on social media:
    • social networks easily become echo chambers
    • falsehoods spread easily and quickly, particularly when an information vacuum exists, they feel parsimonious, and they do not conflict with pre-existing beliefs
    • credible information is often complex, nuanced, and uncertain, which can make it less palatable
    • disinformation campaigns often begin by constructing a false equivalency between credible and unreliable information sources or giving the impression that the truth is unknown
      Learn more by watching Wen-Ying Chou, National Cancer Institute
  5. While social media is often a source of misinformation, it can also be a source of credible information and correction. “Observational correction,” or seeing someone else be corrected when they post misinformation, can be effective. “Social correction” (for example, commenting on a misleading post with a link to credible information disputing the post) are similar in effectiveness to “platform-based correction” (for example, related links to credible information that automatically display below a post).
    Learn more by watching Leticia Bode, Georgetown University
  6. When beliefs that tend to be particularly deeply ingrained are involved, like vaccine skepticism, even discussing misinformation with the intent of refuting it can actually contribute to its spread. These beliefs can be tied up with social identity and heavily influenced by celebrities, family, and friends. Thinking more about the role of personal storytelling and connections in combating this type of misinformation may be more effective than focusing on numbers and expertise.
    Learn more by watching Linda Fu, Children’s National Hospital
  7. It is important for journalists to debunk myths directly in headlines rather than doing so only in an article – this lesson can also be applied to science communication in general. Being transparent about how conclusions are reached is also important.
    Learn more by watching Laura Helmuth, Washington Post
  8. Wikipedia is one of the most widely used online sources of health information. While its accuracy is typically considered on par with other encyclopedias, hoax articles and misinformation do exist on Wikipedia. Humans are not particularly good at identifying hoax articles, but artificial intelligence (AI) shows great promise in identifying this type of misinformation. Information professionals also have a role to play in quality control on Wikipedia, particularly in the realm of ensuring reliability of sources.
    Learn more by watching Srijan Kumar, Georgia Tech; Lane Rasberry, University of Virginia
  9. Humans are social creatures and rumor can be an extraordinarily effective method of communication. However, especially in situations where communities have limited access to reliable health information, rumor can contribute to anxiety and stress as well as the spread of misinformation. By using tools specifically tailored to capture the anecdotes that spread throughout communities, experts can collect valuable evidence to inform the way accurate health information is disseminated.
    Learn more by watching Alison Campbell, Internews
  10. Addressing media literacy in school curricula is one way educators can equip their students to enter a world inundated with misinformation. Integrating these concepts into primary and secondary education – and using real-life articles and case studies to do so – encourages students to think critically about the media they consume and make informed judgments about its validity.
    Learn more by watching Christi Hofland, IREX; Matt Venderwerff, IREX

Interested in helping NNLM combat misinformation? Join the April 2020 #CiteNLM Wikipedia Edit-a-thon!

Sources: Brooks, Jeanne, James Geary, Burt Herman, Jenny 8. Lee, Phillip Smith, and Claire Wardle. “MisinfoCon, A Summit on Misinformation, Feb 24–26, at MIT Media Lab & The Nieman Foundation for Journalism.” MisinfoCon, 25 Jan. 2017, https://misinfocon.com/misinfocon-a-summit-on-misinformation-feb-24-26-at-mit-media-lab-the-nieman-foundation-for-232507bd08a6

Written by Kelsey Cowles, Academic Coordinator, and Tess Wilson, Community Engagement Coordinator, for the Spring 2020 edition of The MAReport quarterly newsletter.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012342 with the University of Pittsburgh, Health Sciences Library System.

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