• Lauren Weber, health and science accountability reporter, The Washington Post
  • Kirsten Bibbines-Domingo, editor-in-chief, The Journal of the American Medical Association and the Lee Goldman, MD Endowed Professor of Medicine, and Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco
  • Garth Graham, director and global head of Healthcare at Google, and a cardiologist, researcher, and public health expert. 
  • Irving Washington, senior fellow for Health Disinformation at Kasier Family Foundation

By Rachel Fairbank

In recent years, the impact of misinformation on public health has been readily apparent. However, as panelists discussed, misinformation is not a new phenomenon, but rather one that has been highlighted by the misinformation spread during the pandemic, and exacerbated by the speed at which social media can disseminate misinformation.

Panelists discussed the role that large tech platforms play in combatting misinformation; some of the strategies for combatting misinformation, whether it’s personal conversations with friends, family members or patients, or actively combating misinformation through pre-bunking or debunking misinformation; and some of the strategies for effectively talking to people who are trying to make sense of what is accurate. 

As Garth Graham noted about the strategy of pre-bunking, “when it’s done correctly, and when information reaches people correctly, there are examples of when it goes right.” This included the recent NFL player who collapsed, and the following rumors surrounding the reasons why. One result, due to experts speaking out about the topic, was a heightened awareness about CPR. 

Kristen Bibbines-Domingo noted that her role as the editor-in-chief of a major medical journal network included the decision whether or not to publish studies on topics that were the target of misinformation. One recent example she cited were published studies on the use of ivermectin for treating COVID, where the science is settled, but there are still major misinformation campaigns on the topic. This includes needing to confront the ethics of whether it is appropriate to conduct studies on already settled topics.

Weber pointed out that as a report, “health misinformation can kill,” and that her job includes trying to identify who is profiting from this information, and who is actively spreading it. “Misinformation as a term is so politicized that it is incredibly hard to meet people where they are at,” she said. 

Given the depth of the issue surrounding misinformation, and the potential tactics to combat it, Irving Washington cautioned that “everyone is hunkering down on their solution.” Instead, he noted that this is a collaborative effort, one that will take a number of different approaches. “All of these pieces are connected,” he said.