Measuring the Burden of Infodemics: Summary of the Methods and Results of the Fifth WHO Infodemic Management Conference


Background: An infodemic is excess information, including false or misleading information, that spreads in digital and physical environments during a public health emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by an unprecedented global infodemic that has led to confusion about the benefits of medical and public health interventions, with substantial impact on risk-taking and health-seeking behaviors, eroding trust in health authorities and compromising the effectiveness of public health responses and policies. Standardized measures are needed to quantify the harmful impacts of the infodemic in a systematic and methodologically robust manner, as well as harmonizing highly divergent approaches currently explored for this purpose. This can serve as a foundation for a systematic, evidence-based approach to monitoring, identifying, and mitigating future infodemic harms in emergency preparedness and prevention. Objective: In this paper, we summarize the Fifth World Health Organization (WHO) Infodemic Management Conference structure, proceedings, outcomes, and proposed actions seeking to identify the interdisciplinary approaches and frameworks needed to enable the measurement of the burden of infodemics. Methods: An iterative human-centered design (HCD) approach and concept mapping were used to facilitate focused discussions and allow for the generation of actionable outcomes and recommendations. The discussions included 86 participants representing diverse scientific disciplines and health authorities from 28 countries across all WHO regions, along with observers from civil society and global public health–implementing partners. A thematic map capturing the concepts matching the key contributing factors to the public health burden of infodemics was used throughout the conference to frame and contextualize discussions. Five key areas for immediate action were identified. Results: The 5 key areas for the development of metrics to assess the burden of infodemics and associated interventions included (1) developing standardized definitions and ensuring the adoption thereof; (2) improving the map of concepts influencing the burden of infodemics; (3) conducting a review of evidence, tools, and data sources; (4) setting up a technical working group; and (5) addressing immediate priorities for postpandemic recovery and resilience building. The summary report consolidated group input toward a common vocabulary with standardized terms, concepts, study designs, measures, and tools to estimate the burden of infodemics and the effectiveness of infodemic management interventions. Conclusions: Standardizing measurement is the basis for documenting the burden of infodemics on health systems and population health during emergencies. Investment is needed into the development of practical, affordable, evidence-based, and systematic methods that are legally and ethically balanced for monitoring infodemics; generating diagnostics, infodemic insights, and recommendations; and developing interventions, action-oriented guidance, policies, support options, mechanisms, and tools for infodemic managers and emergency program managers.

Publication Title

JMIR Infodemiology