Yuan Wang

CHRC Assistants and Director Author Chapter Defining Health Misinformation

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), we are entering an age of “infodemics,” with misinformation leading to mistrust in health authorities, increasing risk-taking behaviors, and undermining public health responses (WHO 2020). While concerns are rapidly growing about the prevalence and harmful impact of health misinformation (Nan, Wang, and Thier 2021), scholars have not clearly defined health misinformation or its components. Without a clear definition and shared agreement on what constitutes health misinformation, comparisons across studies purportedly about health misinformation will remain challenging, hampering our efforts to understand this phenomenon, assess its effects, and design effective interventions. However, defining misinformation in the first place is exceedingly difficult, partly because the benchmarks we often use to diagnose misinformation (e.g., scientific evidence, expert consensus) are sometimes moving targets (Vraga and Bode 2020). In light of the ongoing debate about the nature of misinformation and the urgent need for a clear definition of health misinformation, this chapter aims to critically review current definitions of health misinformation, identify key challenges in defining health misinformation, and finally propose a tentative, unifying definition of health misinformation to guide future research. We conclude by discussing directions for future efforts in refining the definition for health misinformation.

Wang, Y., Thier, K., & Nan, X. (2022). Defining health misinformation. In A. Keselman, C. A. Smith & A. Wilson (Eds.), Combating Online Health Misinformation: A Professional’s Guide to Helping the Public (pp.3-16). Rowman & Littlefield.