The spread of false information starts with individuals who are often criminals and gain some profit after spreading this incorrect news information. It may also originate from states or actors that are backed by the state and seek to advance interests of geopolitical nature; certain opportunists who aim to discredit or defame the official sources also often initiate incorrect information. Primarily this type of false news gains popularity mainly through social media. When many people receive and share certain posts/information across social media platforms, it is easier for the common masses to believe it. With increasing views and shares, the data rarely get verified before forwarding.
The pandemic has given way to an infodemic, spreading with wildfire speed in our digital age. In other words, much information about COVID-19 is on the rounds today. It includes all forms of misinformation, disinformation, and also rumors. Misinformation means misleading or incorrect information; disinformation, on the other hand, is deliberately deceptive. Rumors are information not attributed to reliable sources; they are often unverified. As per a new survey by MyBioSource, around 12% of people in New Hampshire support Covid norms.
Though generally not a criminal offense, spreading false news (including misinformation and disinformation) about COVID-19 has severe repercussions and consequences that endanger public health and directly affect people’s lives. The marketing of fake services and products (like fake COVID-19 vaccines and test kits), promotion of a false sense of security (misleading treatments, solutions and cures, and preventive recipes), conspiracy theories about the origin of the pandemic, and publicizing suspicion of official sources and guidelines provided by them. Each of these has put people at risk and directly led to losses of many lives.
The following few points summarize how to handle fake news around COVID-19:
Establish whether the information provided is fake or has a substantially supported verifiable source.
- Be mindful – fake news often comes around with click bait titles, telling people exactly what they want to hear.
- Performing background checks– confirming whether the website providing the information is trustworthy is essential. One must remember to check the details of the website, including the about page, its mission, motto, and contact details.
- Study the sources – it is critical to research if any news source reports the same news/information. If the story writes any, how many sources, and whether they are reliable or not.
- Photo search – if a picture that seems to be out of context run an online search, accompanies the particular news piece in question. It is a pivotal clue to find out if it is an example of disinformation.
- Consider the quality of the article – articles from reputable news sources do not contain spelling or grammatical errors. A website with low credibility will have typos and blatant mistakes. The overuse of punctuations and dramatic language is also an indication.
- Inspect the date – News outlets habitually re-publish and circulate old posts or promote old news as recent stories. Hence, it is essential to examine the publication date of the article and judge if the timeline is relevant.
- Approach official sources– one must turn to reputable experts such as health organizations, a national-level authority, or a commission and check if that information also got posted there. All information that does not come directly from a verified official source should not get any faith, let alone passing it on.
Avoid engaging with it, even if one does come across false information. It is wise to neither comment nor shares it further. Engaging with it in any way would only help to make it even more popular.
Report the post if it got shared on social media. Suppose the person posting false news is amongst known contacts. In that case, it is advisable to message them privately and politely tell them that the particulars they posted are likely inaccurate. Please help them to understand the risks of posting false news by sharing these tips with them.
Share trustworthy updates. Alongside avoiding fake news and busting false myths and rumors, it is also vital to contribute to sharing facts and official information. It is crucial to share updates from official trustworthy websites that report about COVID-19.
Hoaxes and disinformation accelerate an individual’s interpretation of daily developments. The spread of fake news creates a breeding ground for uncertainty. This uncertainty paves the way for distrust and skepticism, creating an environment of fear, anxiety, and the dismissal of even proven public health and safety measures – leading to a loss of lives.
The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) globally in 2019 got mirrored by the propagation of misinformation. It got accelerated with conspiracy theories about its origin. One must be mindful and vigilant of what one believes and avoid getting deceived. Sharing unverified information can cause severe issues in society. Refrain from doing so. Instead, report any such instances to create harmony in society.