Protesters mach against public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including one woman carrying an anti-vaccine placard. Credit: Becker1999. CC BY 2.0.

The layered, Swiss cheese model for mitigating online misinformation

By Leticia Bode, Emily Vraga, May 13, 2021

COVID-19 has threatened the world with the worst pandemic in a century (Steenhuysen 2021), resulting in more than 100 million cases and more than 2 million deaths worldwide (WHO 2021). And despite the spectacular scientific achievement of developing multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time (Petri 2020), the world is not out of the woods yet. Accompanying the pandemic itself is what the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic”—an overwhelming surplus of both accurate information and misinformation (WHO 2020).

In general, most information circulating online is accurate. One study, for example, found that only about 1 percent of the links about COVID-19 that a sample of voters shared on Twitter were to “fake news” sites (Lazer et al. 2020).  However, several common myths have persisted during the so-called “infodemic”—for example, the conspiracy theory that researchers created the virus in a Wuhan laboratory (Fichera 2020), or that 5G cell phone towers are responsible for its spread (Brown 2020). Newer myths relate to vaccine development, like the one about COVID-19 vaccines being made from fetal tissue (Reuters 2020).


Altay, S., A. S. Hacquin, and H. Mercier. 2020. “Why do so few people share fake news? It hurts their reputation.” New Media & Society.

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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