This guide was produced by Meedan’s Digital Health Lab. In addition to inputs from our health research team, we have consulted with other epidemiologists, public health researchers, and infectious disease specialists in drafting these recommendations, including:
- Dr. Christin Gilmer, a global health scientist who specializes in infectious and communicable diseases and international health systems
- Dr. Saskia Popescu, a biodefense PhD and infectious disease epidemiologist
- Dr. Danny Zamora, a board-certified physician who specializes in infectious diseases
- Dr. Seema Yasmin, Director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative
The amazing work you’re doing as fact-checkers are being used to hold officials accountable, to correct the public record, and to provide factual information that addresses rumors and myths – of which there are many in health outbreaks. It is our hope that these best practices related to disseminating fact-checks for COVID-19 can help strengthen your work in generating efficacious, productive responses to queries during this epidemic with information that is aligned with communications standards of care. It is of note that because this virus is so new, there aren’t any conventionally true experts in it, those of us working in this field are active in researching and communicating about it, and new information continues to emerge. We hope that these recommendations and the query analysis that this enables can also serve health practitioners, health communications experts and researchers as they actively learn and innovate on new communications techniques.
In this document, you’ll find:
- Best practices for fact-checking in the COVID-19 pandemic context
- Key terms for filtering in your Check workspace
- Item tags for more effective query analysis
- Potential language to add to marketing/external communications about the tipline
- Meedan Digital Health Lab’s health fact-checking resource
- Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 & verified responses
Thank you again for your hard work and dedication to addressing misinformation through this pandemic. Please let us know if there are other ways that we can continue to add to this document, or if you have other ideas about how Meedan’s Digital Health Lab can help strengthen your work.
Best practices for fact-checking in the COVID-19 pandemic context
In responding to COVID-19 questions that are submitted to your existing tiplines, there are a few important considerations:
1. Disclaimers are necessary: All responses that you disseminate related to the COVID-19 pandemic should contain a disclaimer text that confirms with users an important concept: because in an epidemic information is constantly changing, it is possible that information you shared with users today may no longer be scientifically accurate tomorrow. For this reason, we have drafted a sample disclaimer text that you can include in the fact-checking outputs that you disseminate to users: We base our COVID-19 fact-checks on information provided by internationally-recognized health organizations and health professionals. Because information in epidemics is constantly being updated, our fact-checks are up to date based on the date and time they are published. If you're looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider, and be sure to review the World Health Organization website for more information about COVID-19: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
2. Consider clinical requests to be out of scope: It is important to treat the tipline as a misinformation clarification tipline, and to avoid providing any clinical recommendations to users that submit questions. The disclaimer text above should help with that. If there are specific personal medical questions that you receive, they can be responded to with a subset of the disclaimer text above: If you're looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider, and be sure to review the World Health Organization website for more information about COVID-19: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
3. Responding to treatment and prevention strategy queries: For questions about specific treatment or prevention strategies, respond to whether they have been tested and validated in the coronavirus context only. For this emergency response tipline, referencing additional possible uses or benefits of certain treatments is out of scope. For example, if the query references the use of antibiotics.
4. Reference the source of the health information you use wherever possible. It may be important to clarify whether the information you have received was verified by an infectious disease professional, as opposed to publicly accessible information on the website of a health information authority such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in case your audience members try to search for more context online.
5. Reference the date/time that the health information was obtained in the response to ensure that users know the information is only valid up to that date/time. Including timezones might be useful as well. The World Health Organization hosts daily media briefings in which recommendations to governments or countries may change, and it is important to communicate with your target audiences the exact point of relevance of the information that you are disseminating.
Key terms for filtering in your Check workspace
As of March 12, 2020, these key terms may be most beneficial for filtering COVID-19 related items in your workspace.
- “World health organization”
The specificity of this set of terms aims to ensure a minimal amount of content outside of the scope of COVID-19 enters the pandemic-specific lists that you have created in your workspace. We attempt to exclude broader health terms to maintain specificity in your workspace to the COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to connect with Meedan’s program managers to recommend additional key terms that other fact-checking organizations may benefit from based on the COVID-19 submissions you continue to receive in your workspace.
Item tags for more effective query analysis
The tags feature in Check is different from the key terms that are used to filter items into a given subtopic within your workspace. Tags are specifically very useful for identifying key common threads across information that may differ in scope, but are about the same topic. In the case of epidemic response efforts, further tagging each query or question that you receive through the tipline can help public health researchers better understand the nature of the type of questions about COVID-19 that people have. Without these tags, it is difficult to qualitatively understand what types of health information people are asking for with respect to COVID-19.
⚠️ Adding tags is very important for communicating to public health information authorities and intergovernmental organizations about the scope of questions that audiences have. This information can be used to highlight gaps in health organizations' own COVID-19 communications. If you have any questions about using tags in your Check workspace, feel free to reach out to your Meedan collaborators.
COVID-19 Item Tags
If the submission references how COVID-19 travels between individuals.
If the submission references how COVID-19 can be 'cured' or eliminated successfully.
If the submission references how one can prevent themselves from getting COVID-19.
If the submission references how to treat someone with COVID-19.
if the submission references the spread of COVID-19 across communities or countries.
Potential language to add to marketing/external communications about the tipline
It is important for those interested in submitting queries to the tipline to know that you are indeed allocating capacity as a fact-checking team towards addressing COVID-19 misinformation.
In designing marketing posts or external communications about your COVID-19 work, it may be useful to:
- Reference a lesser-known or interesting COVID-19 fact, and recommend that if folks want to learn more, they submit their questions to you
- Make clear that you’re in touch with public health experts to respond to COVID-19 questions
Meedan Digital Health Lab’s health fact-checking resource
If you’re interested in learning more about health fact-checking more broadly, best practices, behavior-science informed suggestions, research, and recommendations can be found in Health Equity through Health Fact-Checking: A Primer.
Coming Soon: Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 & verified responses
The questions and answers that we will be providing are not meant as complete responses for you to share with target audiences that have submitted queries, at this point we recommend more nuance in those responses given the nature of concern and confusion that can be experienced by pandemic information-seeking audiences. However, they have been verified by public health and infectious disease experts, and we hope that such prompts can make the process of source or expert-seeking a little bit easier for you.