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In 2020, Meedan launched Health Desk during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative was based on a multistakeholder outbreak response effort that had been in development at Meedan since 2018, building a framework for adapting misinformation response and open source intelligence methods for the field of public health.

For Health Desk, a global network of public health researchers and scientists was available around the clock to deliver high-quality, accessible content for journalists and fact-checkers reporting on the pandemic. This support, which also resulted in a glossary of emerging terms related to the pandemic, was available in eight languages, and its impact was felt by millions around the world.

Over time, the project evolved. Health Desk began to provide information on other important public health topics, such as vaccinations, infectious diseases, and health and safety issues related to environmental crises. 

Evolving the Health Desk to meet rapidly changing needs

What we uncovered

The best place to share public health resources and respond to misinformation is where individuals already search for and exchange content.

How we adapted

Rather than creating a new resource for end users, we worked directly with existing community information channels — including radio stations, podcasts, and news outlets — in their misinformation response efforts. We also worked in lockstep with fact-checking organizations that supported platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and TikTok. This way, information reached users where they were already looking for content.

What we uncovered

Stakeholders need help responding to complex and nuanced scientific topic areas — and they need it quickly. During emergencies, media organizations have to review and summarize complex and shifting guidelines related to emerging research. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, our partners needed reliable access to specialized experts who could support their verification efforts and assist in communicating key findings from the scientific literature.

How we adapted

We adopted a new approach to our response efforts based on Google’s sprint methodology. We guaranteed a turnaround time of 48 hours or less for the content we produced, a window that was in keeping with the tight editorial cycles of our journalism partners. To help meet more urgent deadlines, on-call team members often created responses in as few as five hours.

Laying the groundwork for future endeavors

Our team is developing research methodologies and interfaces that assess information gaps — discrepancies between what is provided to end users and what they actually need, especially in crisis contexts. As private messaging platforms face mounting pressure to address narratives that pose a danger to public health — and as the proliferation of generative AI threatens to scale up such problems — the timing of this work could not be more urgent.

We’re also examining how new technologies, including AI, can actually help us decrease this gap and better equip public health organizations with effective methods for information delivery during both acute and prolonged emergencies. 

During this response effort, we learned even more about the importance of preparedness. With explainers for key, big-picture public health topics on hand, journalists and fact-checkers could quickly provide clear and reliable information to their various audiences, even as complex research was emerging and shifting. This process also enabled faster response times for addressing misinformation narratives, allowing stakeholders to intervene before inaccuracies had the chance to spread. 

Meedan has now integrated the concept of explainers into our programming practices. We’ve found that this approach is particularly useful to support partners as they address hate speech against minoritized communities, for building resources that promote voting safety, and as we collaborate with partners on natural disaster crisis-response efforts. We’re even working to strengthen the ability for our partners and collaborators to apply this tactic at scale through the use of artificial intelligence as part of our software, Check. 

This approach augments human expertise with high-tech efficiency, and we’re exploring new ways for experts to annotate, refine, and train algorithms. At the same time, we’re developing strategies to generate high-quality, structured data outputs for public health emergencies, natural disasters, and other moments of heightened social and civic need.

“Our goal is to continue to replicate this model across other areas where the support of topic experts poses a challenge to reporting, particularly in elections, in crisis contexts, and in situations that compromise the safety of digital spaces.”
Nat Gyenes
Nat Gyenes
Program Director, Crisis Preparedness and Response
at Meedan

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Highlighted numbers

Articles published in response to questions submitted by fact-checkers and journalists:


Response time for on-call public health researchers:

5-48 hours

Countries we worked with:


Newsrooms served — large and small — around the world:


Website visits:

1.5 million

Funded by

Funded by


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