‘Civil Society’ is not homogenous and does not encompass a singular view, however, we, as civil society representatives and advocates, come together around a shared interest and purpose – to advocate for a community-led approach to halt the spread of the COVID-19 Infodemic.
To help mitigate the impacts of and develop resilience to the COVID-19 Infodemic (and future infodemics), the 3rd Global Infodemic Management Conference has asked us, as ‘civil society’ representatives, to engage in dialogue, as well as discuss and commit to necessary actions that will enable individuals and communities globally to mitigate the dangerous effects of infodemics.
Though we are a diverse group geographically, linguistically, culturally and professionally, we share similar challenges when it comes to infodemic management within our respective communities. Throughout the first workshop we discussed, debated, and analysed the multitude of challenges faced by ‘civil society’ across the globe. While consolidating our list of challenges to the top three was not an easy task, we have worked collaboratively to find consensus around the following challenges, which we believe must be addressed in order to manage the COVID-19 Infodemic and mitigate its re-emergence in future pandemics.
- Challenge 1: A lack of timely, accessible, credible, verifiable, and contextualized information in a variety of local languages and formats (ex: digital and non-digital) from local, regional and global actors makes it difficult for factual information to reach intended audiences and creates opportunities for disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation to thrive. We struggle to tailor information for the diverse communities we serve. From a refugee camp in Greece to a rural village in Malaysia, we must find a way to contextualise at a micro level – translating language and science through the correct geographical and cultural lens and making it accessible to a diverse set of people.
- Challenge 2: Mistrust in government and global health agencies is pervasive and proliferating due to uncoordinated and at times misleading or even false information. Trust is earned through meaningful engagement, action, and accountability, not merely through top-down or one-way communication. Individuals and communities across the globe, from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, and in between, are increasingly skeptical of health messages from institutions they are meant to trust most: their governments, global public health authorities, and healthcare professionals. How do we support communities and governments to rebuild trust and ultimately instill confidence in evidence-based health communication?
- Challenge 3: Making information available is insufficient in addressing the barriers that communities, especially those that are marginalized and excluded, experience in accessing, understanding, and co-creating knowledge and content. Low health, digital, media, and information literacy and capacities make it difficult to access and reach our intended audience. Technical and inaccessible language make it difficult for broader audiences to understand the information that is being shared with them. The Westernization and colonization of global health systems alienates people, especially diverse multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and religious groups.
These challenges affect us all. People around the globe are eager to halt the spread of COVID-19. There are many, however, that are uncertain, concerned, afraid and mistrustful. They want to end the pandemic, but may struggle to find actionable information relevant to their lives and contexts. They want to meaningfully address COVID-19, but have concerns, questions and doubts about potential treatments, including vaccines. Humanitarian and development actors must strive to shift from solving these challenges in a vacuum to a more inclusive and comprehensive approach where communities are actively engaged in dialogue and co-creation, and are able to propose and co-develop solutions to the challenges they face.
In the second workshop, and subsequent smaller working groups, we considered solutions and ‘asks’ of support for the challenges defined above, as well as consideration and engagement to and from the wider response community represented at this global conference. The golden thread that weaves through our solutions, is one of placing communities at the heart of decision-making. Civil society cannot act alone. Unless we listen, dialogue and work together as a ‘whole of society’, we will not be successful in mitigating the harmful effects of the COVID-19 Infodemic and other infodemics.
- Solution 1: Develop meaningful, engaging, and trusting relationships with systematically excluded and marginalized communities on the basis of intersectional identities, including youth, women, forcibly displaced persons, persons with disabilities, gender and sexually diverse persons, Indigenous persons, etc. By investing, supporting, and leveraging existing community-based structures, including local media, we can advance the agency and ownership of communities, through the co-creation and co-development of solutions. This process ensures credible, verified, and actionable information is accessible and contextualized, with the needs, perspectives, experiences, and realities of all actors in the information ecosystem.
Ask 1: Multilateral organizations should support and build the capacity and agency of community-based structures so that communities are able to meaningfully engage in decision-making, governance, and program development. This entails active and continuous engagement, mainstreaming, sponsorship, and resources, based on the principles of trust, consent, accessibility, justice, and Open Science, between communities and governments, multilateral organizations, media, and civil society organizations to enable a whole-of-system approach to address the infodemic.
- Solution 2: Infodemics thrive In the absence of trust, accountability, dialogue, and quality equitable healthcare. In order to address these drivers of disinformation and misinformation, we must hold governments and other authoritative bodies accountable to the communities they serve. We must shift from words to action and foster trust and continued dialogue between communities and relevant stakeholders with the ultimate goal of ensuring that communities are at the center of decision-making processes and that public health solutions are co-created with communities to reflect their needs, concerns, and ideas.
Ask 2: Government agencies and multilateral organizations must be held accountable and adopt an inclusive, intersectional, responsive, transparent, and community-driven approach to rebuild trust. Funding needs to be transparent and responsive to the communities they are meant to serve and include accountability and oversight mechanisms to ensure impact for the community. Additionally, global and government agencies must address issues of inequality, inequity, and injustice in community healthcare in order to be more inclusive, transparent and responsive to the communities they serve.
- Solution 3: Literacy is not simply an issue of being able to read and write; comprehensive literacy entails critical thinking and analysis, including an ability to discern fact from fiction. Advancing literacy requires us to understand key barriers to meaningful access to information and services, including healthcare. Once these barriers are understood, investments must be made in literacy capacity building and information infrastructure. Information literacy must be developed with and informed by the inputs, beliefs, attitudes, experiences, perceptions, social norms, and capacities of individuals and communities. Information and communication systems should be developed with communities and a comprehensive understanding of information actors and the existing ecosystem(s) in which they operate.
Ask 3: We must reimagine the way(s) in which we communicate with communities and invest resources in accessible infrastructure, services, and comprehensive literacy capacity building. Governments and multilateral organizations must invest in transliteracy , ensuring that diverse communities have the resources and skills necessary to access, understand, and critically analyze and/or assess information, especially as it relates to their health and wellbeing. Investments should be made globally and locally in media and information literacy education, ensuring it is part of core education curriculum.
Media organizations and practitioners need to be more inclusive and equitable; reflecting the diverse identities and experiences of the communities they are working in and reporting on. Capacity building programmes and initiatives should focus on supporting and engaging with diverse local media outlets and actors in order to build a more resilient, dynamic, and responsive information ecosystem. Lastly, scientific and public health communities should make efforts to ‘translate’ complex health and other technical concepts into relevant and accessible content that uses familiar terms and languages.
Difficult challenges require innovative and robust solutions, but most important, they require the will and desire to change. What we have presented above requires a global shift from top-down, to bottom-up and systems approaches to community-led problem solving and decision making. Until we meaningfully shift how we view, engage and support communities across the globe, mainstreaming their role in response efforts, we will continue to face the core drivers of the infodemic.
1. Malinformation is defined in the Council of Europe’s Information Disorder Report as Information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, organization or country.