Health misinformation and its impact on people and communities remains an urgent issue across the world. To identify what works and what doesn’t when responding to misleading health information online and offline, a team of researchers at the Information Futures Lab (IFL) at the Brown University School of Public Health reviewed 50 papers that investigated the efficacy of COVID-19 misinformation interventions fielded during the pandemic.
Instead of actionable evidence, the researchers found that most of the studies were so different in their approaches and what was measured that the majority of the evidence was not meaningfully comparable. They also found that most studies measured outcomes such as likelihood to share misinformation or perceived accuracy of misinformation. Only 18% of studies measured any public health-related outcomes, such as intent to vaccinate or self-reported mask wearing. These findings underscore the urgent need to include more public health voices in health misinformation research.
The study, “A Systematic Review of COVID-19 Misinformation Interventions: Lessons Learned,” will appear in the December 2023 issue of Health Affairs, and is available via open access online as of today. It reviewed 50 COVID-19 misinformation studies published in English between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 24, 2023, covering 119 distinct interventions.
In their review, the researchers found a large variety of outcome measures (47) applied across the 50 studies, and a significant lack of consistency across studies. Other key findings include:
- Only 18% of interventions were tested using public health-related outcome measures, such as attitudes toward vaccines, intent to vaccinate or willingness to pay for unproven treatments.
- Only 6% of studies exposed participants to any video content (video only or video and text), despite the rising influence of video content.
- Only 9% of interventions were tested against conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 vaccines. There were even fewer instances of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation related to issues of liberty and freedom, despite the prevalence of such narratives in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
- Only 14% of studies assessed outcomes longitudinally.
- Only 28% of the interventions used populations outside the U.S.