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Leveraging the COVID-19 Expert Database to visualize pandemic information

The proliferation of misinformation and disinformation online throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly yielded a corresponding ‘infodemic.’ Information around the novel coronavirus is shifting daily and narratives vary based on the contexts in which we live, work and socialize.

This creates a near-perfect recipe for a confusing, substandard information ecosystem and intentionally false information. Mis- and disinformation related to the pandemic is not just harmful for individuals, but, because of the nature of the virus, low-quality information also adversely impacts the collective and directly contributes to greater numbers of cases and deaths.

As both a graduate student pursuing an MPH at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and as a young person raised in the American South, I’ve had a lens into two contrasting sides of the COVID-19 online informational arena. On the one hand, I have access to some of the highest-quality and timely information on the pandemic. On the other, I have a lens into American skepticism of the CDC and WHO, and clear gaps in which public health authorities (such as from Harvard Chan, the CDC, and WHO themselves), are not effectively reaching the general public, particularly in the digital realm.

Misinformation is highly challenging to regulate, often because it spreads informally across a range of social media platforms. Evidence shows that traditional public health interventions on social media, which present text-heavy facts on platforms, are inadequate for obtaining wide-reach. This becomes particularly clear when those interventions are compared to the reach of mis- and disinformation. Exacerbating this challenge is the fact that news sources are often not staffed with in-house public health experts, and given that, there are significant bottlenecks within academia that preclude a free-flowing stream of the most up-to-date health information for journalists.

In order to address this set of challenges, student group Students Against COVID-19 (SAC) and Meedan’s COVID-19 Expert Database are partnering to pair the latest expert health information with digestible infographics tailored to online spaces and resharing. Through the partnership, SAC will leverage the Meedan Digital Health Lab’s team of experts to translate their most recent COVID-19 updates and answers to pressing questions into highly accessible visuals particularly intended for online audiences globally. Graphics will be posted alongside expert answers on the learnaboutcovid19.org database for easy viewing and sharing. This pairing of content and visuals has the potential for broad impact in mitigating health misinformation online and, in turn, improved public health outcomes.

Zoonotic Diseases! India

About Meedan

Meedan is a technology not-for-profit that builds software and designs human-powered initiatives for newsrooms, NGOs and academic institutions. The Digital Health Lab is our initiative that focuses on improving the quality and equity of online health information. We are researching, designing and testing a digital response framework for addressing health misinformation. Learn more at meedan.com and health.meedan.com.

About Students Against COVID-19

Started by students from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and expanded across universities and high schools, Students Against COVID19 is a student-led movement striving to: 1) empower the nation with quality, accessible information online, and 2) protect our school community and communities of residence during this crisis. COVID-19 is testing our nation’s fabric and in this time of crisis and misinformation, students have a crucial role to play as ambassadors of facts and quality information. The focus is to lead national social media and information campaigns that push evidence-based information on COVID-19 to the general public and empower online users to do the same. Learn more at studentsagainstcovid-19.com and @StudentsAgainstCovid19 on social media.

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