The increasing dangers of health misinformation
A new poll shows how far damaging vaccine (and other health) misinformation has spread
One question we often receive on our Conspirituality channels: How do you effectively combat misinformation?
Sadly, no silver bullet exists. The task is daunting on social networks; in one-on-one conversations, slightly more approachable, depending on the level of comfort you have with another human. Something about physical contact grounds contentious conversations.
Dialogues are important. So is curiosity. Are you listening to the other person, or just waiting for a break in the conversation to slip your points in? While not always easy, actually ingesting the information coming at you is a helpful practice.
Another tactic has been with us since the beginning of our podcast, and long before: share good information. Sure, it seems like an uphill battle, only appealing to those willing to listen to experts. But it remains relevant.
Thus we arrive at this Kaiser Family Foundation Misinformation Tracking Poll published earlier this week. This poll is especially important because it distinguishes between hearing about a topic and believing in it.
The poll covers 10 topics related to three health-related topics: COVID-19 and vaccines, reproductive health, and gun violence. Overall, 96% of respondents have heard of at least one of the pieces of information shared by KFF.
The following percentages represent people who say the false claim is definitely or probably true:
34% believe the COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people
27% believe the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility
20% believe the COVID-19 vaccines have caused more deaths than the virus
24% believe the MMR vaccines have been proven to cause autism in children
31% believe sex education that includes information about contraception and birth control increases the likelihood that teens will be sexually active
60% believe armed school police guards have been proven to prevent school shootings
42% believe people who have firearms at home are less likely to be killed by a gun than people who do not have a firearm
The poll also breaks down demographic data about respondents. Those with a college degree (60%) and Democrats (66%) are less likely to believe in the false claims. Surprisingly, more men (48%) than women (42%) believed none of the false claims. Urban dwellers (48%) were slightly more likely than suburbanites (45%) and much more likely than rural dwellers (35%) to believe in none of the claims.
Finally, the majority of respondents who watch Newsmax (76%), OANN (67%), or Fox News (61%) believe at least one false claim about COVID-19. At the lower end were MSNBC (34%), NPR (31%), and the NY Times (31%).
Where you get information matters. As well as what you do with it.