The purpose of this initiative is to support research that seeks to (1) understand the underlying mechanisms and (2) test interventions to address and mitigate the impact of health-related misinformation and disinformation on health disparities and the populations that experience health disparities.
The health information landscape has significantly changed over the last decade due in part to the rise of internet access and social media use. Simultaneously, the spread of misinformation, defined as health information that is inaccurate, false, or misleading based on current scientific consensus, has proliferated. Recent efforts have also sought to increase distrust in science and medicine through the spread of disinformation, which refers to the deliberate dissemination of misinformation with intentions to influence public opinion and behavior, often using deceptive strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a leading example of how the spread of misinformation and disinformation can hamper the effectiveness of population-level efforts to address public health emergencies that disproportionately impact populations that experience health disparities. Pandemic-related health misinformation concerns all aspects of COVID-19, including the origins of the virus, underlyingbiology, testing, vaccine development and its effectiveness, prevention and mitigation strategies, treatments, and legal and policy responses. Health misinformation is also prevalent in other health contexts, including cancer treatment and screening, use of tobacco and other drugs, sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, or (non-COVID-19) vaccination. While all populations are exposed and susceptible to the adverse effects of misinformation and disinformation, populations that experience health disparities may face elevated harm, in part due to targeted disinformation campaigns and distrust in medical and research communities based on past and present mistreatment. There is national recognition of the importance and urgency for reducing the spread and mitigating the impact of misinformation and disinformation on health, yet the evidence base is limited.
A common misconception is that individuals believe or share misinformation simply because they misunderstand or lack access to information based on scientific consensus. Yet, there are a variety of cognitive, affective, and social processes that underlie beliefs and resultant behaviors following exposure to misinformation. As examples, individuals may believe or share misinformation because they are engaging in intuitive, rather than deliberative thinking; because the information source is similar to them in appearance, beliefs, and background, or is a trusted authority figure; because they are affected by emotions such as fear or anger; or because such misinformation confirms their worldview. Further, exposure to misinformation occurs in the context of complex, changing, and equivocal public health guidance. While the scientific process involves updating scientific knowledge, the potential for negative responses to mutable public health guidance or recommendations might increase susceptibility to misinformation.
In addition, the growing reliance on social media for information, coupled with elevated distrust in scientists, state public health and health departments, government organizations, the pharmaceutical industry, has given rise to increased exposure to online health-related and science misinformation. Public health messages and risk communication strategies that are intended to motivate behavior changes may not be sufficient to address and mitigate the impact of misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the complex and interactive roles that government agencies, healthcare organizations, clinicians, social service programs, pharmaceutical companies, educational systems, public libraries, community-based organizations, faith-based groups, social networks, news outlets, social media, and employers all play in messaging and delivering health information and services.
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Filed Under: Funding Opportunities