From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
How to Avoid Misinformation during the Coronavirus Pandemic

As Coronavirus sweeps the world, journalists and media outlets are in a constant battle to keep their readers up to date with the latest information.

In Albania, the situation is even more complicated as it remains difficult to get answers and information directly from the government, instead journalists rely on Facebook live streams from the Prime Minister, closed press conferences, and website and social media platforms that are not updated in real-time. While the media is working hard to provide up to date and accurate information to readers, there is still a prevalence of fake news and misinformation circulating on social media networks and news portals. Mistakes happen, but there is a growing amount of information out there that is deliberately incorrect and can be harmful and aggravating. 

Here are some tips on verifying information and not falling prey to fake news,  misinformation, sensationalism, and panic-mongering during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Be wary of copy and paste Facebook posts

A ‘copypasta’ is a block of text that is copied and spread across the internet and is similar in many ways to spam. They do not include sources such as links or a direct tag to someone’s profile, and they often make fake appeals to authority such as claiming to be written by a doctor, or someone who has suffered from Coronavirus etc. These are dangerous as they are often false, incorrect, misleading, and not fact-checked in any way. People share them without a second thought, trusting the misleading appeal to authority, and inadvertently spreading potentially fake information. Unless there is a link to a credible source, or the post is shared from a credible and authentic page, it is wise to avoid spreading this type of content.

Use a bias-checking site

Many people fall into the trap of thinking that just because something is published on a website, it must be true. Obviously this is not the case. When reading an article, before you click share, it is often wise to check whether the site is reputable or not. You can use online tools such as Media Bias Fact Check which analyses factual accuracy and political bias of over 3000 sites. In terms of the current pandemic, you should stick to getting medical advice from the public health authority in your country, the World Health Organisation, the CDC or equivalent. By using sources other than those, you risk falling foul to charlatans, fake news, and sensationalism. Remember, anyone can start a blog and write whatever they like and pass it off as fact, be on guard, be wary, and if in doubt, refer to official sources.

Be wary of the media

Not all media is created equal and not all journalists go through vigorous fact-checking processes before publication. A number of publications around the world prioritise sensationalism, poorly checked stories, and unverified facts over the truth, which often gets fewer clicks. Also, pay attention to the wording in the article; “claims”, “suggests that”, “could be” and other non-committal phrasing. Also be cautious of articles where there are no links to support claims, no names, no specifics, or a lot of vague information. 

Don’t share prevention or treatment methods that are not official

Unless you are an epidemiologist who is working on the situation, you have little place in sharing information on cures and preventive measures. Unless you are sharing information by the WHO or your countries health authority, you could end up spreading hoaxes and misinformation that could lead to serious harm or even death. Stick to official sources and don’t pretend you are a doctor!

Avoid speculation

There is a lot about this epidemic that scientists, experts, and governments do not know. If you see a media source claiming to have found a cure, have solved problems related to the virus, or have figured out a solution to the global crisis that is ensuing, you should consider it as a red flag. Details related to how the disease spreads, death rates, contagion, and other matters can take months and even years to properly figure out. In the meantime, bad information, speculation or made-up news proliferates online. Look for trustworthy sources that are upfront about what they don’t know, as well as what they do know.

Ignore conspiracy theorists

We are still in the early stages of the pandemic and it is difficult to really know for sure, how, when and why the situation has become what it has. This is a new disease and a somewhat unprecedented situation and that has resulted in people saying its a bioweapon, was created in a lab, was planted to make money/consolidate power/erode democracy. Resist the urge to share baseless claims because in doing so you cause panic and stress to those who are suffering either from the disease or conditions like anxiety, stress, and depression as a result of the ongoing situation.

Verify images and videos

There are a huge amount of false images and manipulated videos online at the moment and it can take just a few seconds to create a fake visual and make it go viral. Be skeptical of images or videos that claim to show people who have been affected by the disease or the authorities responses. If you have doubts, use Google Reverse Image Search, RevEye or InVid to find the  original and to check your sources.