Inoculating the public with the truth is the best protection against viral lies

The way you combat disinformation & misinformation is to do whatever you can as often as you can to provide correct information, said Dr. Fauci, in his final comments at a White House podium: “People who base what they say on evidence & data need to speak out more.”

Repeat the truth, where people will hear it.

As Dr. Fauci acknowledged, merchants of doubt, denial, and disinformation have endless capacity to keep lying.

Tell the truth, as we understand it. Explain what we know, how we know it, and what we don’t know, and why.

This is the most important lesson from this pandemic, as it was for the last one a century ago. https://twitter.com/digiphile/status/1233739586473537537?s=46&t=b-fssQajhDDdVo0Oqm0d5g

The way to a contain a pandemic’s impacts on public health, economies, & social cohesion is to invest in capacity, institutions, & trustworthy info to create shared facts, & then to repeat them where publics will hear, distributed in PSAs across print, radio, TV, cable, social media, and text messaging.

Denial and lies won’t stabilize markets or regain trust: evidence of effective response & moral leadership will help do both.

We have accrued a deep civic debt over these three hard years, as a vital contagion spread across the hearts, minds, and lungs of billions of people around the world.

Toxic lies and misinformation have polluted civic discourse and politics, much as pollution has polluted civic spaces offline, politicizing agencies, scientists, doctors, & medicine itself, putting public health and national security both at far greater risk when the next outbreak occurs.

It’s not a matter of if, but when a virus jumps from a bird or swine or simian source as humans encounter wildlife and handle or consume it.

We need to see more action and impact from the US government on this, but it can’t just be about them, media, or tech companies.

We will all need to scrub in to have any shot at healing a grievous systemic sickness in the time for another stress test.

The best way to combat disinformation — lies intended to harm people — is to spread science-based information via trusted voices like doctors, not some random person of Twitter, suggested Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

He challenged journalists and people who run (social media) platforms to think about our responsibility: do you want to be a source of misinformation?

To help us think this through, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy published a useful guide for how to approach this in our persona and professional lives.

The graphics above are in this toolkit. Official guidance on health misinformation is at HHS.gov.

I encourage you all to read and share it, as we all seek to practice good information hygiene in the years ahead.

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Alex Howard

Dad, writer, citizen, chef, cyclist, skeptical optimist, cereal dilettante. Open government advocate at E-PluribusUnum.org.