Misinformation and COVID-19

Misinformation and COVID-19
by Dr Orna YOUNG for FactCheckNI
25 March 2020

We are living through a global health emergency in which the communication of misinformation and disinformation — or what has been termed “an infodemic” — will quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Never before has the quality and accuracy of the information we are consuming mattered on such an immediate and global scale. While social media platforms and communication apps must play their role in removing misinformation, individuals also have a responsibility to check what they are sharing. With this in mind, FactCheckNI have put together a guide to accessing information on COVID-19.

Firstly, it is important to go back to the basic principles of fact checking. As fact checkers, we tell everyone that fact checking can and should be done by anyone. FactCheckNI has an online toolkit with lots of resources and useful links around fact checking in general, to help you stop, think and check before sharing anything online. Some questions to help stamp out false information on COVID-19 are:

  • Where’s it from?
    If you don’t know the source of the information, check out the about page or ask yourself why they’re sharing the story.
  • What’s missing?
    One click can help you spot false information. Read the whole story and watch out for images, numbers, and quotes that don’t have sources or that might have been taken out of context. Also check what other people/sources are saying. A quick cross reference of a story, or piece of information, can help reveal any inconsistencies.
  • How does it make you feel?
    People who want false information to spread try to manipulate your feelings. They know that making you angry, upset or worried means they’re more likely to get clicks and shares. If it’s winding you up, stop and think how you could check it before you share — this will reduce the chances of your sharing false information and adding to the anxiety we all feel about COVID-19.

To this end, you can also check out our Beginner’s Guide to Fact Checking. The five simple questions of “Who? What? When? Where? Why?” can make all the difference in how you engage with information on COVID-19.

The standard of the fact checked material you are accessing is also important. Fact checking organisations who are verified by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) work under the fundamental principles of impartiality, transparency and accuracy. Many are debunking so much of the misinformation about COVID-19 on a global scale. For the UK and Ireland they are FactCheckNI, Full Fact, TheJournal.ie and The Ferret.

A remarkable global fact checking effort on COVID-19 has been ongoing since January this year. Led by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter Institute, the #CoronaVirusFacts/#DatosCoronaVirus Alliance has united more than 100 fact checkers around the world in publishing, sharing and translating facts surrounding COVID-19. Find the completed database of identified misinformation here.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a comprehensive web page dedicated to COVID-19 pandemic, which is updated with all the latest updates on the virus. They give daily updates on the number of confirmed cases, deaths and countries/regions/territories where they have been identified. They also have a specific “Myth-Busting” resource, which addresses specific false claims regarding COVID-19.

The WHO have also released a WhatsApp messaging service. It provides the latest news and information on coronavirus including details on symptoms and how people can protect themselves and others. It also disseminates the latest situation reports and numbers in real time to help government decision makers protect the health of their populations. It can be accessed by texting “hi” to +41 22 501 76 55 on WhatsApp.

Checking with trusted and reliable sources will ensure that we are all informed and play our individual part in what has to be a collective effort against misinformation in relation to COVID-19.

Image: Doctor Holding Mobile Phone by Vivelweb used by license Dreamstime.com

FactCheckNI is Northern Ireland’s first and only dedicated independent fact checking service and a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can learn more about about FactCheckNI, our personnel, what our article verdicts mean, and how to submit a claim.

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