Want to counter health misinformation? There’s a course for that
IHPME offering teaches students how to communicate effectively online
By Alisa Kim
Myths about the COVID-19 vaccine persist—for example, that it causes infertility or contains a microchip so governments can spy on their citizens—even though more than 12 billion doses have been given worldwide. “Everyone is getting their information online, and social media is ubiquitous. People can claim to be an expert in a field, regardless of the credentials they possess. Because of this, it’s invaluable for public health care students to engage in health care dialogue on social media, and this course will act as a guide for these important conversations,” says Dr. Mrigank Shail, a faculty member at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) and a communications consultant at the World Health Organization (WHO).
To help address the rise of health misinformation, Shail, along with IHPME Senior Fellow Neil Seeman, will be offering a course called “Health Communication in the Age of Infodemics” to teach students about strategic communications using social media. The course, tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2024, is open to any IHPME student and other students within the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
The course is geared to a diverse audience including health care practitioners, policymakers, researchers and executives. It aims to help students become more confident and effective online communicators, and leverage the power of social media to build trust and democratize information-sharing. “There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding social media itself in the sense that although social media can do great harm by spreading misinformation, there are a lot of positive things it can do quite powerfully. This course offers tips about how to help communities return to the values of Web-enabled empowerment: effective knowledge sharing, collaborating, and trust-building,” says Seeman.
Students will learn the history and context around online misinformation about science and public health, and why it is important for those who work in health care to respond to false information. It also teaches practical skills for the use of social media, like creating customized content, engaging with audiences and becoming a reliable source of credible information.
A unique feature is the opportunity to learn from and network with global experts in public health, communications, and digital media including:
- Gabriella Stern, Director of Communications, WHO
- Maria Van Kerkhove, Head, Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, and COVID-19 Technical Lead, WHO
- Vismita Gupta Smith, Head, Strategy, Planning & Coordination, Department of Communications, WHO
- Aleksandra Kuzmanovic , Social Media Manager, WHO
- Andrew Pattison, Team Lead for Digital Channels, WHO
- Stephanie Alice Baker, health and medical mis/disinformation, conspiracy & influencer culture, Senior Lecturer at University of London
- Alexa Heinrich, Director, Accessible Social
- Ben Phillips, Director of Communications, United Nations AIDS
Shail and Seeman say they are excited about sharing their expertise with students and giving them the chance to learn from some of the world’s most effective health communicators. “We have experts who will dive into the intricacies and unique workings of how to be a successful communicator in a diversity of social media channels, including what makes a post go viral, when to post, and how hashtags can amplify your messaging,” says Shail.
The course is open to any IHPME and DLSPH student—regardless of proficiency with social media. Seeman says a course like this is important now more than ever because a broad swathe of the public has lost faith in institutions and authorities. “The answer is to help rebuild trust online. We’d like to be part of that solution. That’s the opportunity, and it’s exciting. As depressing as the trust gaps may be, the solution sets are fascinating and empowering.”