Public Health Echo Chambers in a Time of Mistrust & Misinformation - Digital Health @ Harvard, February 2017
with Berkman Klein fellows Natalie Gyenes and Brittany Seymour
With digitization and simultaneous democratization of the global information landscape, plus declining trust in media and health institutions, misinformation is pervasive. Audiences are forming homophilic social networks, reinforcing opportunities for selecting information that conforms to pre-existing beliefs, a phenomenon known as the creation of echo chambers. Echo chambers are not only problematic when misinformation reinforces certain beliefs, but they also make it difficult to disseminate evidence-based information broadly. In order to understand how public health echo chambers manifest themselves online, we used the Media Cloud suite of tools, an open access global archive of 5+ billion sentences from a set of 25,000 online information sources to conduct three mass media case studies on Ebola, Zika, and Vaccination. Our findings show that public health information networks are largely unsuccessful in driving an evidence-based information network narrative around any of our case study topics.
Based on these results, we invite participants to take part in a round table discussion, assessing the role that the online media ecosystem plays in creating, spreading, and reinforcing health information and misinformation. We hope to analyze together how communication theory and network science can support innovation and new online communication strategies for public health.
This is a talk in the monthly Digital Health @ Harvard Brown Bag Lunch Series, which is co-hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
About Natalie Gyenes
Natalie is a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Media Lab. Her work draws on experience in the fields of human rights, applied epidemiology, and behavioral science. Natalie's research focuses on how digital media portrays and influences issues of health equity and access, human rights and social norms. Natalie works to assess media influence - investigating the effects that different narratives and news frames have on public sentiment for global issues, and highlighting opportunities for impacting broader media dialogues. Before joining Berkman Klein, Natalie worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, developed guidelines for health professionals working with trauma-affected refugees, and, at the Harvard School of Public Health, created frameworks for co-designing health and rights programs.
About Brittany Seymour
Brittany Seymour is an Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine with a research focus in interdisciplinary collaborations for health through innovative information dissemination and curriculum development. She was the Inaugural Harvard Global Health Institute Fellow, where she launched the Harvard Health and Media collaborative and the Social Media and Health Fellowship program for students; fellows have worked on projects in the US, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa. Her work has explored digital communication around water fluoridation, childhood vaccinations, the Ebola epidemic with fellow Berkman colleagues, and adolescent HIV/AIDS. As a Berkman Fellow this year, she will explore online health information/misinformation and patient behaviors in the context of networked media theory and social network analysis. Her long term goals are to develop communication bundling strategies for whole health promotion and prevention.
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