Trey Kay Published

Health Care Professionals Fight COVID Disinformation On Social Media Battlefield

Disinformation Web Post.png

Health care workers are the glue in our public health system. They’ve seen firsthand the impacts of messaging around COVID-19 — the good, the bad, and the downright dangerous — especially on social media. That fire hose of information shaped our experience of the pandemic.

The internet has also catapulted dangerous misinformation about the virus and treatment into mainstream public opinion. It’s a crisis some health care workers are taking to task themselves.

In a new Us & Them episode, host Trey Kay talks with some of the internet’s favorite doctors and nurses about what that movement should look like.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the CRC Foundation.

This program was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 through the West Virginia Humanities Council. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Subscribe to Us & Them on Apple Podcasts, NPR One, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher and beyond.

Donn Jones
Vanderbilt University Medical School
Dr. Wes Ely is an ICU doctor and professor at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He had extensive experience with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. He’s also been heavily involved in caring for patients during the COVID pandemic. The deluge of incorrect information about COVID-19 motivated Ely to do more than just treat the patients in his own hospital. So he started posting science-based information on social media to counter a fire hose of misinformation and disinformation.

View some of Dr. Ely’s TikTok posts:

United Nations
Melissa Fleming is the Undersecretary-General for Global Communications at the United Nations. It’s her job to talk to people about big, difficult topics. When COVID was first discovered, she worried institutions like the UN were not up to the fight. Her group at the UN initiated an experiment called Team Halo, where they trained 100 scientists around the world to become active on social media and compete with some of the world’s worst disinformation actors. This was the beginning of something relatively new in the world of public health — an intentional effort to encourage people with expertise in medicine and infectious diseases to take to social media.

View some of Undersecretary-General Melissa Fleming’s video posts:

Siyab Panhwar
Dr. Siyab Panhwar is a cardiologist based in Louisiana. He’s a part of the UN’s Team Halo — a global group of medical professionals who have taken to social media to combat disinformation about treatment for the COVID pandemic. He has a big platform — more than 400,000 followers — and his content feels somewhere in the middle of the ‘us and them’ approach to COVID information. He falls in between simple PSAs about health and aggressive callouts on disinformation.

View some of Dr. Panhwar’s TikTok posts:

Jarred Vincent
Jarred Vincent is not part of Team Halo — but he was working as a nurse at the start of the pandemic. Since then, he’s taken his passion for healthcare to TikTok…and gained over half a million followers along the way. He takes a more aggressive approach to calling out spreaders of misinformation and disinformation.

View some of Jarred Vincent’s TikTok posts: