Social science in epidemics: Rift Valley fever lessons learned

Abbas, Syed Shahid, Bukachi, Salome and Ripoll, Santiago (2019) Social science in epidemics: Rift Valley fever lessons learned. Technical Report. Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP), Brighton.

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Summary considerations
- The current media landscape has the potential to facilitate the rapid development and spread of mis- and disinformation. Social media can also be used to quickly and effectively counter mis- and disinformation. Such positive opportunities must be identified and maximised.
- Mis- and disinformation can proliferate when there is a lack, or conversely, an overabundance of information. Their spread can lead to non-compliance with public health measures, perpetuate political conflict and discrimination, and cause negative psychological and social effects.
- Social media are global in scope, yet the behaviour of social media users is locally specific. Rapid assessments are needed to fully understand people's favoured channels, most trusted sources, level of literacy and media literacy, and preferred languages and formats for receiving and sharing messages. Such details are essential in order to best communicate with multiple population groups in an emergency.
- Public bodies should ensure that the information they share through social media is factual and originates from official sources (such as the WHO, CDC, Ministries of Health etc). They should push information and consistent messaging through multiple channels. A lack of up-to-date information can create a vacuum that is filled by speculation. Reporting inaccurate information should be the responsibility of all � from news agencies to individual users.
- People are more inclined to believe and share information when the message is clear and simple, when they trust the source of the message and the channel through which it was conveyed, when the message aligns to their pre-held beliefs, and when the message resonates with them emotionally (e.g., drawing on humour, fear or disgust); text heavy messages do not hold people's attention in the same way as emotional content. People have a greater level of assurance and trust in consistent information which they see featured on multiple sources, whatever those sources may be. The same is also true of mis- and disinformation - If mis- and disinformation are not addressed as they arise, they can proliferate. Identifying and directly addressing false information and rapidly debunking �rumours' can be very effective and create space for reliable and relevant information to circulate. Rumours often reflect underlying anxieties or pre-held social or political positions and beliefs; it is important to address their underlying causes. Communications that are solution-focused, promote a sense of self-efficacy, hope and agency, whilst building on existing resources and strengths can help mitigate fear and foster compliance with public health recommendations.
- In rapidly evolving situations such as health emergencies, it is acceptable for official sources to acknowledge that there are unknowns and to reassure the public that they will convey new information when it emerges. This transparent approach challenges people who circulate information that is not supported by evidence.
- Trust is also generated by when two-way dialogue is enabled. Accessible channels must allow people to ask questions, the answers to which are reflected in the information being shared. In this way, people are provided with pertinent information and see their realities and concerns acknowledged in broader communication.
- Trusted experts and �social influencers' should be used to help communicate information in an engaging way and are often more trusted than official sources. Official bodies should collaborate with social influencers to amplify key messaging.
- Rather than censoring information which risks it moving to more private platforms such as WhatsApp, it may be more effective to flag information as inaccurate and flood the same channels with factual information.
- Further research is needed to better understand the sources and motivations behind health misinformation and to analyse the effectiveness of measures aimed at stemming its flow and mitigating its harmful effects.

Item Type: Reports and working papers (Technical Report)
Additional Information: Issue 4
Schools and Departments: Institute of Development Studies
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Depositing User: Syed Shahid Abbas
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2022 13:28
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2022 13:30

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