An infodemic is too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. It causes confusion and risk-taking behaviours that can harm health. It also leads to mistrust in health authorities and undermines the public health response. An infodemic can intensify or lengthen outbreaks when people are unsure about what they need to do to protect their health and the health of people around them. With growing digitization – an expansion of social media and internet use – information can spread more rapidly. This can help to more quickly fill information voids but can also amplify harmful messages.
Infodemic management is the systematic use of risk- and evidence-based analysis and approaches to manage the infodemic and reduce its impact on health behaviours during health emergencies.
Infodemic management aims to enable good health practices through 4 types of activities:
- Listening to community concerns and questions
- Promoting understanding of risk and health expert advice
- Building resilience to misinformation
- Engaging and empowering communities to take positive action
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Member States have recognized the importance and need of an infodemic response through recent resolutions, coming together in solidarity and responding to calls for actions. Therefore, WHO is building partnerships across all societies to respond to the COVID-19 infodemic and is developing country tools for infodemic management that can be used now and for future infodemics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has worked with the UN family, tech sector, media, civil society and other amplifying communities to understand concerns, co-develop messages, extend the reach of health information, and to respond to the information needs of communities. WHO has also worked with academia to develop a public health research agenda for infodemic management, and with a diverse group of experts to develop a competency framework and trainings in infodemic management.
WHO is championing universal access to credible health information, and building resilience to misinformation for people worldwide. At the same time, more efforts are needed to better understand the scale of the infodemic, and impact of strategies used to manage it, in order to develop new toolkits for countries.
Through regional networks, such as the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance, WHO is fostering new approaches to meet changing needs for an evolving health emergency infodemic response. This is providing a foundation for further collaborations to also improve preparedness and early detection of emerging and resurgent health threats.
WHO is working with partners across society to strengthen the scientific discipline of infodemiology. The purpose is to build and deliver sustainable tools that health authorities and communities can use to prevent and overcome the harmful impacts caused by infodemics.
Through partnerships, WHO works to bolster digital capabilities and leverage social inoculation principles to foster higher digital and health literacy, build resilience to misinformation, and deliver innovative ways to reach communities with reliable health information. Here are a few of those innovations:
- Developing a public health research agenda that provides guidance for where to invest in research to better understand, measure and respond to infodemics
- Establishing EARS, an early AI-supported response and social listening tool to help health authorities quickly identify rising narratives and “information voids” that interfere with people getting the information they need to make good health choices
- Running a weekly aggregate of publicly available social and news media, web analytics and online search data to identify and understand online infodemic-related conversation patterns
- Conducting visual network analyses to better understand the ecosystems where misinformation is able to thrive
- Establishing a repository of ~200 active?COVID-19 fact-checking groups that verify COVID-19 related claims in more than 40 languages
- Refining an AI-based infodemic observatory to assess the current status of misinformation and disinformation diffusion
To advance progress on infodemiology, WHO regularly convenes the global community for conferences to discuss and chart ways forward on infodemic management topics.