An analysis of over 4.5 million social media posts found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be shared than true stories. This failure is causing significant harm and undermining our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

In the United States, communities of color are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research finds that even the wealthiest Black Americans experienced an increase in mortality more than 3.5 times larger than the increase experienced by the poorest White Americans. At the very same time, communities of color have been the intentional target of some disinformation campaigns, putting them at even greater risk. At The Rockefeller Foundation, through our Equity-First Vaccination Initiative working to increase access to vaccines in communities of color, we are hearing firsthand about some of these campaigns. For example:

  • In Oakland, California, Black communities are specifically targeted by weaponized disinformation spreading doubt about vaccines, creating concerns in communities where historic mistrust in the healthcare system is high.
  • In Houston, Texas, migrant communities are targeted on WhatsApp with “they will deport you” narratives that stoke fear among already disenfranchised people.
  • In Newark, New Jersey anti-vaxxers are targeting Christian, Spanish-speaking communities, asking them to choose between trusting God or trusting the COVID-19 vaccine—a false equivalence that nevertheless makes people question the vaccine.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General launched a national effort to fight misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, calling on all Americans—especially social media and tech companies—to do their part to stop the spread. The advisory maps out immediate, preliminary steps towards building a healthier information environment for everyone. Just as the research and funding communities came together to develop COVID-19 vaccines, we need to do the same to fight mis- and disinformation. With rigorous research, tailored and proven interventions, and hands-on and committed outreach, we can stop this 21st-century pandemic.

Read the full article about the spread of COVID-19 misinformation by Estelle Willie at The Rockefeller Foundation.