This blog post summarizes “Public Health and Online Misinformation: Challenges and Recommendations,” from Annual Review of Public Health.

Dr. Briony Swire-Thompson and Dr. David Lazer explored how individuals interact with inaccurate health information online, and how the ability to access so much information is affecting health outcomes. In addition, the researchers explored how the perceived trustworthiness of the institutions conveying health information has changed over time.

A review was conducted to analyze and discuss the spread of health misinformation online and propose strategies for improving the online information ecosystem.

Key Findings

  • If an individual finds a source credible, they are more likely to believe that the information from that source is true.
  • Because of this, people with medical credentials who stoke unfounded fears are among the most dangerous sources for spreading misinformation.
  • Health communicators should be careful not to overstate causal inference between a health behavior and a health outcome.
  • A study by Haber et al. (2018) found that 34% of academic studies and 48% of media articles used language that was “too strong for their strength of causal inference.”
  • Critical thinking is a skill that can be taught to tackle health misinformation, and new resources to teach ehealth and media literacy are becoming increasingly available.

Implications for Practice
Advances in technology can be a useful solution for tackling the spread of misinformation online. Health communicators should establish close relationships with scientists and work diligently to produce the most accurate level of coverage. Should an error arise, as long as the communicator demonstrates a clear, evidence-based correction, people are willing to reduce their belief in the original misinformation.

Read more to learn about which channels spread misinformation the most, the quality of different channels and how individuals are using technology to consume health information.

Swire-Thompson1, B. (n.d.). Public Health and Online Misinformation: Challenges and Recommendations. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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