Why COVID Misinformation Continues to Spread

Covid Misinformation Graphic
Penn Medicine’s Anish Agarwal discusses why false claims about the virus and vaccines arise and persist, plus what he hopes will come from NIH-funded research he and Penn Engineering’s Sharath Chandra Guntuku have recently begun.

For the better part of three years now, COVID-19 has dominated news cycles, with pandemic-related information showing up in social media as much as—or sometimes more—than in traditional media. Anish Agarwal, a Perelman School of Medicine emergency physician and deputy director of the school’s Center for Digital Health, experienced firsthand how this affects health care interactions.

“COVID changed the game in so many ways,” says Agarwal, who is also chief wellness officer in Penn Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “People started using social media more and thinking about how we interact and communicate with each other, especially in the early phases of the pandemic. News was hot off of people’s fingertips.”

That access, coupled with the pace of change, gave misinformation the space to take hold, and despite how much more we know today than in spring 2020, that challenge still persists, Agarwal says. It’s something he and Penn Engineering’s Sharath Chandra Guntuku plan to study thanks to a $3.8 million grant they received this past fall from the National Institutes of Health.

Read Michele Berger’s full interview with Agarwal about his grant with Guntuku from the NIH, misinformation generally, what he thinks could improve the situation, and where he hopes his research will eventually go at Penn Today.