While guarding against misinformation on social media, mechanisms are not protecting trusted information

Using Twitter on a phone

Cochrane’s Instagram posts have been removed, their Instagram account has been shadow banned, and now a Cochrane Library Twitter post about winning a prestigious award for trustworthy information has been tagged as misleading.  These incidents highlight the realities of Cochrane’s call against misinformation while protecting trusted sources. 

Cochrane’s health evidence syntheses are recognised as the international gold standard for high quality, trusted information. Cochrane Library reviews are used to support global and national health guidelines and policy. We advocate for evidence-informed healthcare and make our trusted evidence accessible and available to all. One way we do this is using social media to reach different audiences. 

This week the prestigious Harding Prize for Useful and Trustworthy Communication was jointly awarded to by the ONS Covid Infection Survey and the Cochrane Review of Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. The Harding Prize, run in association with Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre, and is supported by Sir David Harding,  goal is to draw attention to the unsung task of 'informing and not persuading' and celebrate those who were doing it well.

The Harding Prize judges noted that the Cochrane Infectious Disease Group’s review of the evidence for the use of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 used clear language, communicated straightforwardly, and with balance that that there was no benefit to hydroxychloroquine which outweighed the side effects and that trials of it should be stopped. This review was done with rigorous methodology and communicated with clarity and directness, which enabled policy makers, journalists, and the public to discuss and make decisions based on the best evidence. 

It was particularly ironic that a celebratory tweet from the Cochrane Library about winning an award for useful and trustworthy communication was tagged by Twitter for being misleading. This tag does not allow it to be replied to, shared, or liked. 

Tweet

“Social media platforms are starting to act on mis/disinformation by tagging posts that are deemed misleading and penalizing repeat offenders”, says Sylvia de Haan, Cochrane’s Head of Advocacy, Communications and Partnerships. “It’s likely our ‘misleading’ tag from Twitter was due to the hydroxychloroquine hashtag.  However, misleading posts are still using this hashtag without restrictions, while a post from the Cochrane Library, a leader in health evidence synthesis, is blocked. This incident, like other recent examples, illustrates how the system is imperfect. It underscores the urgent need to not only guard against misinformation on social media but have better mechanisms to protect trusted information.”

Karla

“This latest social media blunder comes after the recent launch of the Cochrane Convenes Report which highlights the parallel challenges of generating trust in evidence and countering mis/disinformation and calls for concrete action to address these issues”, says Cochrane’s Editor in Chief, Dr Karla Soares-Weiser. “There is an ongoing issue with how you hold those deliberately creating and sharing mis/disinformation to account and how you form accreditation and approval for official sources of evidence that have met certain quality control standards. We need to make it easier for people to access trustworthy information – and that includes on social media.”

Cochrane is a proud supporter of WHO’s call to action on infodemic management and is currently collaborating with science communicators at Lifeology and the Association for Healthcare Social Media. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this recurrent issue with social media platforms directly and to work with others interested in supporting science communication. Write to us at cochrane@cochrane.org, and consider signing our call to action on trusted evidence for all in health emergencies.

Thursday, March 17, 2022