Society problems

3rd WHO Conference on Managing Infodemics, Whole-of-society challenges and solutions to respond to infodemics #societyVSinfodemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted the 3rd WHO Conference on Managing the Infodemic from October 20 to December 11, 2020. The theme of the conference was “Challenges and Solutions for the Whole of society to respond to the infodemic”. Participants gathered to discuss at a unique time of the pandemic, on the eve of the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines and the start of vaccination deployments. Today, a full conference report, including key findings and ideas, has been released.

Over the 6 weeks, conference participants gathered from across society, including youth activists, community leaders, scientists, journalists, data scientists and technicians, policy makers, tech companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), health authorities, UN personnel and others. There were over 200 participating organizations, hundreds of panelists and thousands of people attending the panels. This reflected a true approach to whole-of-society engagement, and the conference aimed to set new standards for what can be achieved with a virtual, remote approach.

The conference featured 21 different online dialogues, workshops and webinars on infodemic challenges and approaches and ways to catalyze action. The meetings were organized around six themes for six stakeholder groups with particular and immediate potential to address infodemics. They were:

  1. The scientific and research community
  2. Country health authorities
  3. Tech companies and social media platforms
  4. NGOs and civil society groups
  5. Media and Journalism
  6. United Nations agencies and multilateral organizations

In each of the thematic tracks, participants discussed challenges, approaches and action points. For example, after the conference, civil society representatives and advocates issued a statement outlining the key challenges and solutions they had collaboratively formulated during the conference workshops. The statement included succinct “requests” to multilateral organizations, government agencies, media professionals and others to support the solutions they identified.

“As civil society leaders, we are committed to managing the infodemic by and for communities”

Ian Soh. Founder of a global COVID-19 youth movement – MoreViralThanThe Virus.

These results were presented in a live session on December 11, 2021 and are now available in the conference report. Findings common to all tracks were those that emphasized the whole society theme. Managing the infodemic is a challenge for all professions and there is a need for increased collaboration and partnerships, better tools and systems to verify, clarify and share information, and coordinated approaches to reach populations the world’s most vulnerable and excluded who are most at risk from COVID-19.

A significant strength of the conference approach was the multidisciplinary nature of the participants, all of whom declared a shared commitment to managing and mitigating infodemics for equitable health and wellbeing. Reflecting on work, Andrew Patton Digital Channels Team Lead at WHO said:

“What usually happens when the WHO paints a picture of the problems, the tech industry has a set of solutions at their fingertips. And where the problem and the solutions overlap, that’s the sweet spot for collaboration. This is where the WHO can start making plans very quickly”

Delegates crafted a call to action, promoting a global movement to promote access to health information and mitigate the harm caused by health misinformation among online and offline communities. This call remains open for every organization and individual to add their name and show solidarity and commitment to the cause. Conference papers and videos are available online for viewing on the conference website here.

This conference was the third in an ongoing series of conferences on managing infodemics organized by WHO since April 2020. The first two conferences established a global framework for managing infodemics, 50 key actions for the response to infodemics and an agenda for public health research and practice to find evidence-based measures to combat infodemics. In May 2021, a fourth focused on advancing social listening for public health, and the fifth conference, in November 2021, focused on measuring the burden of the infodemic.