American Journal of Public Health
May 2019 109(5)
AJPH EDITOR’S CHOICE
Communicating Research in an Era of Misinformation
Media, Immunization/Vaccines, Health Promotion
Megan Lowry and David Fouse
Last year, AJPH hit a milestone. The article by Broniatowski et al., “Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate” (bit.ly/2TnBA8f), published in the October issue was the 18th—among millions—most read academic article of 2018, according to Altmetric (bit.ly/2QKpR1k). To the American Public Health Association communications team, this was no surprise. When reading the article before publication, we knew it had popular appeal and scientific clout. It also fed into a hotly trending political narrative and addressed a timely public health challenge. It made a great news story. Broad interest from the media ensured that the public heard about its findings.
It also illuminated a central challenge facing us today: how can evidence-based public health messages compete against more attention-grabbing trolls, tweets, and myths, particularly when they undermine science and sow discord? Fittingly, this AJPH study, along with others, led Dictionary.com to designate “misinformation” as its 2018 word of the year (bit.ly/2Qk1Ttv).
Broniatowski et al. concluded that the best way for public health to push back against misinformation is to not directly confront the messengers or repeat their misinformation (or, in Internet speak, “feed the trolls”) but instead to look for other ways to assert the truth…