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Fighting misinformation: communications during the Ebola outbreak

Ebola has arrived in the United States, bringing with it endless questions from the public and fear about what will happen next. Local, national and international news media outlets are devoting hours of coverage to Ebola “what ifs.”  So it’s inevitable that along with that coverage comes the dark side of communications: rumors and misinformation.

Government organizations are leveraging the power of email to take control of the dialogue and communicate directly with the public, the media and healthcare professionals. By owning the conversation with direct digital outreach, government organizations are effectively squashing the rumors and getting critical information to those who need it. Over 9.7 million recipients have heard about the topic of Ebola from all levels of government through GovDelivery in the past month alone. Here are a few examples of government agencies taking control of the situation:

The CDC has been sending communications about the Ebola outbreak for months. Prior to the first identified case in the U.S., the CDC offered information via email on the West African outbreak, including resources for international partners, guidance for airline and cargo crews, and health advisories for travelers.

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 Now that the disease has entered the U.S., the CDC is using the power of email to drive traffic to new resources. One critical resource, a video featuring a CDC demonstration on the safe use of personal protective equipment when treating a patient with Ebola, was promoted in an email to Healthcare Personnel and Health Officials. Email served as a direct channel to share reminders and recommendations like this one around how to evaluate patients for possible Ebola Virus Disease.

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At a local level, the City of Dallas was hit the hardest, coming under a local, national and international microscope. The city has used email to communicate with the public on what is being done to mitigate the severity of the situation. It’s also leveraging email to mobilize and control the swarm of media coverage that has been adding to the chaos.

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HHS sent a wealth of information, including FAQs and visual graphics, to help distinguish between an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. vs. Africa.  There’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States is prepared, and has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities. As CDC Director Dr. Frieden has said, “I have no doubt that we will control this case of Ebola, so that it does not spread widely in this country.”

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Across government, organizations are using digital communications to combat misinformation. Although organizations can’t always control misinformation from the media, they can ensure that more people are getting the right information directly from the source to soothe media panic and ultimately promote health and safety in the communities they serve.