Paying SPECIAL consideration to the digital sharing of information during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
Armitage L., Lawson BK., Whelan ME., Newhouse N.
© 2020, The Authors. Within weeks of identification of COVID-19 disease in China, social media and digital information sharing platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp saw the rapid spread of information, termed an 'infodemic' by the World Health Organisation (WHO).1 Some of this information has been high quality science while much more has been misleading, fear-mongering, or false. In some instances, the distinction between high quality and false information is less clear, but the information creates distraction or confusion. This can be harmful at a time when trustworthy science and guidance in the area of COVID-19 are urgently needed.1 Researchers and health professionals are among many sharing information using digital platforms and social media. Seeking to share knowledge, protect others from risk, and provide leadership may lead us to media-trawl for the latest information and feel an urgency to share what we discover. We too may contribute to spreading information that creates fear or leads to harmful outcomes. A number of researchers and health professionals have major influence as opinion leaders among the public and their peers. Primary care clinicians and researchers should promote a critical and sceptical approach to the information we share, and those in leadership positions have a particular responsibility to lead by example. Social media and digital information platforms have major potential to help health services respond to COVID-19, by disseminating up-to-date and accurate advice.2 To achieve this, people must be able to access credible advice over misinformation. In 2009, the WHO published advice on the use of social media for disseminating health information; the bottom line is that we should be strategic and choose wisely.3 We propose a framework to help us be strategic and choose wisely, by paying SPECIAL consideration to the information we share (Figure 1).