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Friday, Jun 05, 2020

10 ways to spot fake news about the coronavirus pandemic before you spread it

It’s easy to hit ‘retweet’ on something that’s just not true, but spreading fake coronavirus news doesn’t help anyone. From verifying accounts to trusting your gut, here are 10 steps you can take to verify information on social media before you share it

Bad information about the novel coronavirus appears to be contagious.

The temptation to share unverified but alarming information is understandable. Many of the people who share hoaxes don’t do it to mislead – they think they’re sharing valuable information with their friends and family.

But it’s easy to hit “retweet” on something that’s just not true. And false information isn’t helpful to anyone.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on February 15. “Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous.”

For starters, if someone high up in the government or military was attempting to communicate vital information to American citizens, they probably wouldn’t do it with a rambling screenshot from the Notes app.

Another hot topic: ibuprofen. The French doctor who originally advised people not to take it probably meant well, but medical experts around the world say there’s no evidence ibuprofen is linked to a higher risk of Covid-19 infection – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – nor has it been linked to increased complications from the disease.

US President Donald Trump, no stranger to repeating rumours that would reflect well on him, has frequently claimed that certain existing drugs could treat the coronavirus. Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared that optimism. But while scientists are working to test the efficacy of the malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in fighting the virus, there’s currently no reliable, published, peer-reviewed evidence on the subject.

The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved either drug to treat the disease, and no one should be attempting to self-medicate with it. Already, this bad information has had tragic repercussions: a man reportedly died after ingesting chloroquine at home in Arizona in hopes of preventing the coronavirus.

So take a beat before you retweet. Here are some ways to verify what you’re reading before you share:


Verify the account that’s posting the information

Check the account. Are they verified on Twitter or Facebook? That lends more credibility to what they say. If they aren’t verified, do more checking.


Check the photo on the account

Does it seem like a real person, or is it a photo of a celebrity or something generic, like a sunset or a flower? You can use reverse Google Image search to see if the photo was taken from elsewhere on the internet.


Check the age of the account and how many followers it has

A brand-new account with a dozen followers is unlikely to be one that’s breaking major national news.

Scroll back through some older posts – has the account always shared news, or was it a meme account a month ago?


Take note of how the news is being presented to you

Is it just in a tweet? Is there a link to a longer story somewhere? Again, a screenshot of an email, text message, Google Doc or Notes app is unlikely to be good information.


Check the source

Is the account attributing the information to an organisation, a politician, a news outlet, or “a friend of a friend”? Good information will have a reputable name to back it up.


Verify the site the information is coming from

If there’s a link, click it. Does it go where you expected it to go? Check the URL – are you really on the site you think you’re on, or does something seem off? Look for strange spelling and anything weird in the web address. A website you’ve never heard of is unlikely to be the first and only source for major breaking news, no matter how slick the layout looks.


Check the byline

Is it a real name? Click through to the bio page – does it sound real? Does the author have social media accounts where you can verify that he or she is an actual reporter? This is another opportunity to use Google Image reverse search if there’s a photo.


Verify the information itself

The best way to verify a piece of information is to see whether reliable news outlets have reported it. As news organisations, there is a burden on us to do more digging to verify things before we share them on social media. We don’t always get it right, but there’s a better chance something tweeted from your local newspaper is true than something from a completely random person with no accountability to anyone.


Read the story or post

Does the wording sound off – maybe like it was run through Google Translate a few times? That’s one way fake news websites rip off articles from legitimate sites.


Trust your gut

If there’s a nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “Eh, I’m not entirely sure this is true,” or “Wow, that sounds kind of far-fetched, but who knows?”, it’s better to hold off on sharing it until you can verify.

If you see someone on social media sharing information that’s not true, try to be gentle when pointing it out. Correcting false information can backfire. People are prone to be defensive and to double down when they’re challenged. We’re all a little tense right now. Be kind.

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