An opportunity and a challenge
In the US, 40% of people surveyed for a study said that the information they get from social media influences their healthcare decisions. As successive generations grow up with the social web, this source of peer support is only going to increase – Wellcome Monitor shows that in the UK this is much more prevalent in younger generations.
And so, this critical social health infrastructure presents both a huge opportunity and a challenge that we can’t afford to ignore. To seize them we need to take a much more systemic lens. Earlier this year, we commissioned social design agency Shift to conduct rapid research to explore the potential for our public engagement team to commission further projects in this space.
What emerged from this research was the need to move away from creating sticking plasters for misinformation, towards looking at the health of the environment. We need to create a healthier internet if we are to get healthier information being created and shared.
Building a healthier internet
Working with Shift, we mapped six types of roles needed to build up the strength of this emergent field. These ranged from convening others and catalysing the emergence of a field, to communication and control – including through legislation. Many health and political organisations are piling their energy into these latter two areas.
This response to the social web’s high-speed disasters is reminiscent of how the world approached the development of our other highways – roads and cars. Transport has evolved from being seen as a private sphere of personal choices, to one that authorities have shaped through legislation and communication campaigns – and it is now being shaped through human-centred design techniques, with great success.
We can learn from these. Mumbai-based behavioural firm Final Mile designs solutions using beliefs and biases responsible for car accidents. Their design for one busy stretch of road in Mumbai reduced fatalities by 56% and accidents by 43%. Imagine the impact on health if we could apply our understanding of human behaviour to the social web and achieve these kinds of results.
It is time for health organisations, and others, to step into these other roles so that we can design out misinformation and capitalise on the full potential of our hyper-connected world.
Already playing a role or know others who are? Add your projects to the Healthier Internet database so that we can build a map of global initiatives for the community to benefit from. Visit www.healthierinternet.org.