COVID-19 Rumors and Misinformation

This is a short technical brief with important steps and resources on how country programs can track and address rumors around COVID-19. The guide includes a number of resources and links while also sharing nuggets from global, collective thinking around rumors.

Rumors are unverified information that spread rapidly through a group or population. They can either be true or false. Often there is a bit of both in a rumor. Rumors are a natural response to uncertain or threatening times. Rumors often emerge when there is a lack of accurate, credible, reliable information or too much of it, resulting in conflicting information or an overload of information. In that case, it is hard to separate fact from fiction.

Rumors are a “social barometer” that can give us insight into how people are thinking or feeling about COVID-19. We can ignore them as unimportant, but as a Northern Nigeria polio immunization program discovered in 2003, not listening to and addressing rumors can be expensive. Rumors about the vaccine stopped people from vaccinating their children resulting in an outbreak response that cost nearly $500 million more than anticipated.

This fact sheet was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Breakthrough ACTION and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. The guidance includes contributions from the READY initiative funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs serves as a READY consortium member.