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Building a healthier internet: Lessons from fighting covid-19 misinformation

A trial in Atlanta explored ways to spread more reliable information about the pandemic. Could similar methods work for other divisive topics?
January 25, 2021

Online misinformation and political polarization have hampered the efforts of public health officials to stop the spread of covid-19. Are there better ways to counter the falsehoods and get more reliable information out there?

The MIT Media Lab’s HealthPulse project recently tried to answer that question. It ran a trial in Atlanta, a city with a large population of African-Americans, who for historical reasons have a high level of mistrust in health authorities. The HealthPulse team used a mix of technological tools to analyze what people were saying on radio and in social media, crafted messaging that could counter common falsehoods and misperceptions, and then asked community leaders and other influential people to spread those messages.

So how well did it work? And could similar methods help create more informed and less divisive public discussion on other subjects? In a live panel on January 28 at 2 p.m. US Eastern time, as part of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda Week, we’ll talk to the HealthPulse team and other experts about the lessons from the trial. The session will be livestreamed here, and a recording will be available afterwards.

Participants:

  • Deb Roy, director of MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication and director of HealthPulse
  • Rear Admiral (ret.) Susan J. Blumenthal, public health director of HealthPulse and former US assistant surgeon general
  • Joan Donovan, director of research, Shorenstein Center at Harvard University
  • Ceasar McDowell, professor of the practice of community development, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

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