How Misinformation Is Threatening Your Business

If it’s on the internet, it must be true. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to tell the difference between accurate information and misinformation. Misinformation about biological risks can pose a threat to society by eroding public trust, but it can also pose a threat to your company. 

How Misinformation Is Threatening Your Business
How Misinformation Is Threatening Your Business

False information related to COVID-19 directly influences individuals’ actions to prevent transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. It impacts who gets sick or dies from preventable illness. It drives economic loss and threatens social well-being. 

Of course, you can’t control what your team members, business partners and customers believe. You can, however, develop a robust awareness of current trends in misinformation related to public-health issues. Using a data-driven approach, you can then develop policies, responses and procedures that help mitigate the threat to your enterprise.

So what does that threat to your business look like – and how can you mitigate it?

What misinformation looks like

During the COVID-19 pandemic, false information helped negatively shape health-related behaviors. Of course, some false information is produced and shared out of ignorance or the absence of research skills. Other false information is disinformation and is produced on purpose to cause harm. Finally, someone creating false information may intend to influence the reader to buy something or support a certain cause without directly intending harm.

No matter why it’s generated, false information spreads fear and suspicion and undermines public trust. Types of misinformation and disinformation include:

  • Genuine mistakes, such as statistics containing typos that are shared accidentally. Unfortunately, these errors can cause serious public misunderstandings.
  • Misleading content that does contain some fact, but is purposely designed to “trick” readers into drawing false conclusions. 

    – Content that’s paid for by sponsors who aren’t clearly identified. For example, a YouTube video about natural ways to boost your immunity might promote a greens powder as a source of vitamins. If the powder manufacturer is a sponsor of the channel, there’s likely to be some bias.

    – Content that relies on a bait-and-switch tactic to get views or clicks. For example, a headline might read, “Doctor admits that handwashing is useless against COVID-19.” However, in the article, the doctor simply says “handwashing alone will not stop the spread of COVID-19.”
  • Content that contains no helpful information and is purely designed to deceive readers.

    – Propaganda, which rarely shares facts; instead, it makes statements that play on readers’ emotions like fear, anger and pride. “Patriots who love their country will do X, but cowards will do Y.”

    – Leading questions. Conspiracy theorists often rely on these, instead of providing facts or information. They’re designed to lead readers towards unfounded suspicions and false conclusions. However, they absolve the speaker of any direct responsibility, because they can claim to be “just asking questions.” “Have you ever stopped to wonder why vaccine syringes don’t have all the vaccine ingredients printed on them?”

    – Completely false claims with no basis in reality. “Bill Gates inserted a microchip into the COVID-19 vaccine!” 

Will members of your workforce fall for these strategies? Unfortunately, most Americans agree that misinformation is a real problem in our society – and plenty of people are reading and sharing it.

How misinformation threatens your workplace

Misinformation can affect your business at its most personal level – the health of your employees. When a single employee misses work, it generally isn’t a business-wide problem. When most of your workforce is down with an illness, however, the costs can add up quickly, and your employees may spread an illness because of misinformation. Let me explain.

When someone shows up to work sneezing and coughing, everyone else wants them to go home. If employees leave the bathroom without washing their hands, others are sure to notice. When it comes to common-sense precautions against disease, however, misinformation can lead to carelessness. 

The COVID-19 pandemic serves to illustrate this principle. When people don’t perceive risks accurately because of misinformation, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior that could harm everyone. Several studies conducted in 2022 found that quite often the perception of COVID-19 transmission risk, and not the actual risk, determines whether a person takes action to avoid getting infected. 

If you have a biological threat in your company like COVID-19, misinformation that encourages your employees to resist safety precautions can affect your ability to continue operations because a high percentage of workers are sick. It can negatively influence employee morale. It can increase absenteeism because healthy employees don’t want to get sick. And ultimately, it can hurt your bottom line. Misinformation can also lead to vaccine hesitancy.

The cost of vaccine misinformation

Vaccine hesitancy is one of many examples where perceptions based on false information can lead to preventable disease, elevated healthcare costs and even increased death rates. It’s also a great example of how peoples’ perceptions and behavior are shaped by inaccurate content. Specifically, it shows how social media posts from celebrities cast doubt about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, which influenced fan behaviors. Unfortunately, most social media users don’t demand peer-reviewed source material to back up outrageous claims about vaccine safety. 

For instance, fans readily accepted Nicki Minaj’s dubious claim about her cousin’s friend’s infertility after he received the COVID-19 vaccine in Trinidad & Tobago, even though the country’s health minister reported that no such cases existed. Her reluctance to be vaccinated influenced her fans to resist the vaccine. In fact, more than 340,000 fans responded to an online survey Minaj sponsored about vaccine use. She involved thousands of people in discourse that was grounded in misinformation.

Minaj is hardly the only celebrity to encourage vaccine hesitancy, but her celebrity gave credence to tweets that had major repercussions. A study partially funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in BMJ Health & Care Informatics, found that celebrity social media posts related to COVID-19 directly impacted individuals’ actions to prevent transmission of the virus, including vaccination.

In a similar situation, misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations led two million Canadians to refuse the vaccine. This refusal cost the Canadian healthcare system an estimated 2,800 lives and at least $300 million between March and November of 2021, according to a report from the Council of Canadian Academics. Had hesitant individuals chosen to receive the vaccine,  Canada would have seen 200,000 fewer COVID cases and 13,000 fewer hospitalizations. Further, the report found that people are particularly vulnerable to misinformation in times of crisis when the consequences are most acute. 

How can my business mitigate the impact of misinformation?

Misinformation and disinformation present important risks for businesses. They can threaten employee health, increase your healthcare costs, exacerbate disease-related absenteeism and increase workplace outbreaks of disease. 

Businesses can mitigate these impacts by treating false information as a risk of its own – as a digital pandemic of sorts.  By using trusted data, critical examinations of evidence and evidence-based biorisk interventions, business leaders can:

  • Protect employees from known biorisks.
  • Prepare their organizational culture to mitigate emerging future risks as they emerge.
  • Use science-based information in company communications.
  • Extend protection to their customers and market base, who may look to businesses and business leaders as thought and action leaders.

The Public Health Company values transparency, rigor and a commitment to evaluating and presenting evidence-based recommendations. We will continue to provide businesses with ground truths that result from our and others’ analyses. Our biorisk management platform, backed up by world-class expertise, is your best defense against the impact of misinformation about biorisks.

Dave Komendat retired as the Vice President and Chief Security Officer for The Boeing Company, a role he held for 14 years of his 36 years within the security profession. Komendat was responsible for the company’s global security and fire protection policy and procedures, site security, executive protection, supply chain and aviation security, structural and aircraft fire protection, government and proprietary information security, classified cyber security, strategic intelligence, international security, business continuity and disaster preparedness, Global Security Operations Center, and security background investigations.

 

Komendat was also the lead Boeing interface for both national and international security policy engagement with numerous government and industry advisory groups. He represented Boeing as past co-chairman and current board member on the Domestic Security Alliance Council, past President of The International Security Management Association and served as a member of the Threats and Information Committee for the Overseas Security Advisory Council.  

 

Komendat is the founder and President of DSKomendat Risk Management Services, he also serves on several company advisory boards and holds board leadership roles with several non-profit organizations whose missions are to protect people globally, including Hostage U.S. and The International Security Foundation. Dave is also a Strategic Engagement Advisor for the Office of Private Sector within the FBI. In 2018, Dave was awarded the Director’s Award for Exceptional Public Service by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

 

Komendat graduated from California State University at Long Beach and also attended and completed the executive development program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Dr. Carter Mecher serves as the Medical Advisor for the Public Health Company. 

 

Prior to joining PHC, Carter served as a Senior Medical Advisor for the Office of Public Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In this position, Dr. Mecher played a key role in the COVID-19 outbreak response. 

 

From 2005 to 2011, he served as the Director of Medical Preparedness Policy at the White House Homeland Security Council and National Security Staff. He was a principal author of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan. In this capacity, he helped set policy and devise strategies to mitigate the consequences of a pandemic and promote pandemic preparedness. 

 

Before serving at the White House, Dr. Mecher was the Chief Medical Officer for the Southeast VA Network in Atlanta from 1996 to 2005. In this role he oversaw the healthcare delivery for veterans in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 

 

Dr. Mecher is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War, an in-depth examination of the U.S. response to the pandemic. In addition, he is featured in Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition.

 

Dr. Mecher received his medical degree from Chicago Medical School and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in critical care medicine at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.

Dr. Joe DeRisi is a Scientific Advisor to PHC. He is one of the early pioneers of DNA microarray technology and whole genome expression profiling; he is nationally recognized in the field of genomic epidemiology for designing a first-of-its-kind initiative for COVID-19. Joe currently serves as Co-President of Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and is a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at University of California, San Francisco. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford University.

Dr. Sumiko Mekaru is the Vice President of Research and Innovation at The Public Health Company. Dr. Mekaru is an epidemiologist operating at the intersection of traditional epidemiology and technology and leading cross-disciplinary teams to solve challenges in public health. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Mekaru was a Life Sciences Strategy, Policy, and Operations Expert at Booz Allen Hamilton where she recently led the development of COVID-19 forecasting models for disease transmission, resource utilization, and critical events for the Department of Defense. Dr. Mekaru has also led health technology teams at Epidemico and Boston Children’s Hospital, creating innovative health surveillance tools. She has published extensively on infectious disease outbreak monitoring, modeling, and surveillance. Dr. Mekaru holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University and a PhD in epidemiology from Boston University.

Justin McIntosh is an experienced professional with 10+ years in management and 8+ years in software engineering. Currently, he is the Vice President of Operations at The Public Health Company. His journey began in college when he co-founded Safe Site, a utility services company, which expanded to operations in three states with over 300 employees. After a successful exit, he founded Docusite, a construction risk management application, diving into software engineering. Despite challenges with Docusite, Justin’s passion for technology led him to various roles before landing at The Public Health Company.

 

In his current role, Justin is tackling the challenging task of improving operations in a remote environment. He is dedicated to his role and is always open to sharing experiences and insights. He is committed to nurturing effective teams, improving operations, and shaping innovative solutions. His focus is on creating a positive, growth-oriented environment and mentoring emerging leaders, reflecting his commitment to collective success.

Lori Sutton is the Vice President of Marketing at The Public Health Company. She is a strategic marketing visionary and global brand leader with 20+ years of progressive experience in B2B/B2C SaaS software marketing in large enterprise and SMB markets. She has expertise in leading strategy development, overhauling brands, launching products and driving growth in target verticals. Prior to joining PHC, Lori was the Vice President of Marketing and Growth at SMS-Magic, where she led the global GTM strategy, orchestrated a brand overhaul, developed new messaging and positioning and launched revenue generating campaigns. Lori held marketing and management roles at Model N, Bullet Point Network, Saba and other SaaS software companies where she focused on marketing strategy, business objectives and analytics to drive revenue.

Lori holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, an Executive Education in Corporate Strategy at Harvard Business School and continues coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Craig Katsuyama is the Vice President of Administrative Services at PHC. He brings extensive experience building companies from the ground up and was instrumental to the launch of IEX Group in 2012, which challenged the status quo of financial markets and created an entirely new stock exchange that works for all investors. Craig spent the last eight years at IEX where he built and oversaw the accounting and finance teams before transitioning to help establish IEX’s Event Stream business, a data messaging platform that applies IEX’s core technology to areas outside of finance. Craig graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Economics.

Dr. David Fisk is the Chief Medical Officer at The Public Health Company. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Fisk served as an Infectious Disease Specialist at Sansum Clinic.  He serves as the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Cottage Health, leading the infection control team at Cottage, working with physicians and hospital leaders on the COVID Incident Command Center to ensure the highest level of preparation and care for patients. In early March 2020, before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk advised that the virus was already spreading locally before community members were observing symptoms.

 

Dr. Fisk completed his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship at University of Michigan Medical Center. He is board certified in Infectious Diseases and a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Chris Latko is the Chief Technology Officer at PHC. He joined as a Principal Software Architect where he played a key role in building out the platform. He has over 25 years experience in the technology sector holding positions at companies he started, Fortune 500 companies, and a multitude of startups both in the United States and Japan. He has spent the last decade designing, refining, and reimplementing architectures for hypergrowth startups such as Boxfish, Paxata (acquired by DataRobot), Banjo, and Globality. Chris earned two patents for designing a streaming data ingestion/data normalization platform.

Kendall Burman serves as PHC’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining PHC, Burman held leadership roles at Alloy, a data and technology start-up for the progressive political market. Burman previously served as the Deputy General Counsel for Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Commerce and as Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President in the Obama Administration. She was also a counsel in the cybersecurity and data privacy practice at Mayer Brown and served as Chief Staff Counsel for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

 

Burman is a graduate of Bowdoin College and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago where she was an editor of the law review. She was also was a fellow at both the New America Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Dr. Charity Dean is the CEO, Founder and Chairman of The Public Health Company, a venture-backed Silicon Valley technology startup. 

 

In August 2020 Dr. Dean founded PHC, envisioning a commercial-grade global biosecurity platform to empower enterprises to manage biorisk at scale. Dr. Dean’s obsession with building a new solution was born out of 24 years in public health and the recognition that Silicon Valley innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning could birth this entirely new capability. Two years later PHC PharosTM is a game-changer for numerous businesses providing real-time, dynamic risk management across their global footprint and assets. 

 

Dr. Dean founded PHC having served as the Assistant Director for the California Department of Public Health where she was part of the executive team under Governor Newsom running the COVID-19 pandemic response. She co-founded and co-chaired California’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force and under her leadership, California went from ranking last in the nation for testing to first in three months. In 2019, Dr. Dean served as Acting State Public Health Officer overseeing 4,300 staff with an annual operating budget of $3.5 billion. 

 

Before her move to statewide office, she served as the Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County and oversaw a myriad of disease outbreaks and biological threats; she also served as attending physician for TB, HIV, and homeless medicine at the Santa Barbara Health Care Centers. 

 

Dr. Dean was awarded Physician of the Year in 2018 by the Central Coast Medical Association and honored as one of the Women of the Year by the California State Legislature.

 

Dr. Dean is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War. Her work during the pandemic is the focus of Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition. Dr. Dean has shared her insights about the danger of biological threats and the changes we must make before the next crisis in a number of interviews and podcasts.

 

Dr. Dean holds a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University and a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Oregon State University.

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