The global anti-vaccine movement and vaccine hesitancy that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic show no signs of abating.
According to a survey of U.S. adults, Americans in October 2023 were less likely to view approved vaccines as safe than they were in April 2021. As vaccine confidence falls, health misinformation continues to spread like wildfire on social media and in real life.
I am a public health expert in health misinformation, science communication and health behavior change.
In my view, we cannot underestimate the dangers of health misinformation and the need to understand why it spreads and what we can do about it. Health misinformation is defined as any health-related claim that is false based on current scientific consensus.
Vaccines are the No. 1 topic of misleading health claims. Some common myths about vaccines include:
Their supposed link with human diagnoses of autism. Multiple studies have discredited this claim, and it has been firmly refuted by the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Social media platforms allow people to form information silos with ease; you can curate your networks and your feed by unfollowing or muting contradictory views from your own and liking and sharing content that aligns with your existing beliefs and value systems.
By tailoring content based on past interactions, social media algorithms can unintentionally limit your exposure to diverse perspectives and generate a fragmented and incomplete understanding of information. Even more concerning, a study of misinformation spread on Twitter analyzing data from 2006 to 2017 found that falsehoods were 70% more likely to be shared than the truth and spread “further, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth” across all categories of information.