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Battling Public Health Misinformation Online

Social media and web-based news channels became a communication superhighway for correct and incorrect public health information during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study of this vast amount of information, known as infodemiology, is critical to building public health interventions to combat misinformation and help individuals, groups, and communities navigate and distill crucial public health messages.

In a novel effort to combat COVID-19 misinformation, a group of women researchers, including nurse scientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), launched the Dear Pandemic social media campaign in March 2020. It delivers curated, comprehensive, and timely information about the COVID-19 pandemic in a question-and-answer format. Complex topics such as COVID-19 aerosol transmission, risk reduction strategies to avoid infection, and excess mortality are explained in common language and shared widely.

Now with more than 100,000 followers and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the campaign has an international and multilingual impact offering important public health insight via social media. An article in the journal Public Health Nursing describes how the campaign is combating misinformation about COVID-19.

“Dear Pandemic has demonstrated that consistently publishing high-quality content outside a peer-reviewed venue can result in incredible impact—personal behavior change, informed nodes of trust to further disseminate factual information, and resources for community providers navigating constantly evolving knowledge,” says Penn Nursing’s Ashley Z. Ritter, PhD, CRNP, the article’s lead author.

Dear Pandemic is an example of necessary low-barrier information exchange with the public and a tool for community providers like nurses to stay informed of breaking news. Increased engagement of nurses in endeavors like Dear Pandemic amplifies the impact of collective interdisciplinary efforts to educate the public, contain misinformation, and motivate individual and systemic action, the article explains.

“Now is the time for nurses to flex their communication and trust muscles in both traditional and innovative ways to advance the health of the public through trusted, actionable messaging in addition to exceptional patient care,” says co-author Shoshana Aronowitz, PhD, CRNP, a Fellow of the National Clinician Scholars Program.

The article “Dear Pandemic: Nurses as Key Partners in Fighting the COVID-19 Infodemic” is available online.

Additional coauthors of the article include Alison Buttenheim, PhD, of Penn Nursing, Lindsey Leininger PhD, of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College; Malia Jones PhD, MPH, of the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jennifer Beam Dowd PhD, of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford; Sandra Albrecht PhD, MPH, of the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; Amanda M. Simanek PhD, MPH, of the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Lauren Hale PhD, of the Program in Public Health, Department of Family, Population, and Preventative Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University; and Aparna Kumar PhD, MPH, CRNP, of the College of Nursing at Thomas Jefferson University.