Muddling through misinformation and myths

12 Jul 2021

The Prime Minister, experts, the media and your great uncle on Facebook - everyone is talking about COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout. Sorting fact from fiction, especially on such a complex topic, is hard when you're being bombarded every day with such a large volume of information. 

Enter cognitive psychologist and ANU expert, Dr Eryn Newman.  

Eryn studies how people come to believe and remember things are true and examines this in the context of science communication and misinformation. 

Throughout the pandemic, Eryn has been working with colleagues across the globe to make practical and reliable information easily accessible. The material aims to help people communicate about the virus and the vaccine effectively and debunk misinformation. 

"The last couple of years have shown us in a very visceral way how misinformation can hurt individuals, communities and public health," Eryn says. 

"We have seen the rapid spread of false information online since the pandemic started. Now, as we engage in efforts to get our communities vaccinated, dealing with misinformation is paramount." 

The importance of combating misinformation and making credible information more widely available is what prompted Eryn and international experts to collaborate on handbooks for the public that do just that. 

"In 2020, we realised that we needed to make the science of misinformation more available to policymakers, journalists and community members, 

"That's what led us to create both the Debunking Handbook and Vaccine Communication Handbook." 

While it's easy to think that misinformation is not something you or those around you will be influenced by, Eryn's research has shown that the strategies used to spread false information can make us all susceptible.   

"We find that the tendency to believe repeated claims is robust and does not vary systematically across individuals according to, for instance, whether they are deep thinkers," Eryn says. 

"Our hope is that anyone can pick up one of our handbooks and it will help them to learn about disinformation tactics and how to effectively debunk misinformation in their own circle, amongst their family and friends."