Health Misinformation

Definition: Inaccurate claims, unsupported opinions or conspiracy theories about health that cause personal and public health harms.
Legal Status:
Rarely criminalized
Platform ToS:
Violates Policy
Victim Visibility:
Inherent in Content
TSPA Abuse Type:
User Safety: Dangerous Misinformation and Endangerment

Health misinformation refers to incorrect or misleading information related to health topics. The issue is a persistent source of challenge for digital platforms' efforts to minimize their use for harm. Firstly, the fluid nature of medical consensus makes it challenging to categorize information as misinformation definitively; a case in point is how rapidly consensus changed on various aspects of the COVID19 pandemic. Secondly, actors disseminate health misinformation for diverse reasons—ranging from ideological motives to financial gain to sincere personal conviction—making one-size-fits-all policy interventions ineffective. Moreover, motivated distributors of health misinformation often exploit loopholes in platform policies to propagate it: for instance, anti-vaccine advocates often circumvent rules by framing their content as personal medical experiences, a common carve out in platform policy.

Platform design often amplifies health misinformation. Platforms that recommend content have a tendency to amplify outrageous or sensational content, of which conspiracy theory and "avoid this for your health" content are exemplars. Additionally, health misinformation is a member of the club of "rabbithole harms", where algorithmic recommendation systems can reinforce and strengthen existing views, terminating at extreme perspectives not tethered to reality. In search, confirmation bias also plays a role in sustaining the misinformation ecosystem and ensuring beliefs in misinformation are not counterbalanced by competing evidence.

In summary, health misinformation is not just a content problem but a design problem. Relying solely on trust and safety measures, such as takedowns, continues to draw public backlash and accusations of censorship. Addressing the issue effectively requires platforms to reconsider the underlying systems that amplify and sustain the patterns of misinformation, rather than blaming the organizations that create it and the individuals that believe it.

What features facilitate Health Misinformation?

A platform proactively inserting content into a user's view.

How can platform design prevent Health Misinformation?

Mix in Authoritative Content
Add authoritative content from trusted partners on users' subscribed topics.
Media Provenance
Record and display the chain of custody and original source for media.
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