Combating COVID-19 Misinformation
We’ve learned a lot of new buzzwords in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. Social distancing. Flatten the curve. Herd immunity.
Here’s another that you may not have heard yet — Infodemic. That’s what the World Health Organization called all the misinformation about COVID-19.
Misinformation is another word you may not know, though you probably know the concept. It’s also known as "fake news". Fake news is nothing new, but in recent years it has spun out of control. This is thanks to the internet, where information spreads quickly. According to the website Doubt It, 90% of Canadians have fallen for fake news at least once.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, misinformation was widespread. This is partly because we knew so little about it. Now we know more, but misinformation continues to spread.
Some misinformation is dangerous. Many people have under-exaggerated the severity of the virus, claiming that it’s no worse than the flu. People have died from consuming cleaning products they thought could kill the virus. And some people refuse to wear masks because they think it reduces the body's oxygen levels.
Misinformation also contributes to racism. Anti-Asian racism increased when a conspiracy theory said the Chinese government created the virus in a lab as a bio-weapon. Other racial and religious groups have stood wrongfully accused of being super-spreaders.
Social media is a huge platform for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Many social media sites have flagged or banned misleading posts. In October, Twitter flagged a post by Donald Trump for claiming immunity from the virus. YouTube and Facebook both deleted Radio-Québec’s accounts for repeatedly posting false information.
While some people knowingly post misinformation, it is often spread unintentionally. That’s because people don’t verify the information they see online before sharing it.
So how do you decide what’s credible and what’s misinformation? CTRL-F is a website that teaches students how to find reliable information online. It recommends three basic steps for evaluating information:
1. Investigate the Source
Who published the information, and what is their reputation? Many websites are credible, while others are known for fake news. So how do you determine which ones are which?
A quick way is to use the Wikipedia trick. Type the website’s URL followed by the word “Wikipedia” into your search bar. You will likely find a Wikipedia entry that tells you the publication’s reputation.
2. Check the Claim
Is the claim factual? The easiest way to determine this is to visit a fact-checking website. Many websites have been specifically created to dispel myths about COVID-19. Here are some of the best ones:
Another simple method is to Google the statement. The top few results of your search will likely reveal whether it is true or not.
3. Trace the Information
What is the original source for the story? Sometimes information gets distorted when it’s reported online. Read through the story to find where it was first reported, and then read that.
Also be sure to check the date of the story. Presenting old information as current can be very misleading. In March 2020 a journalist wrote that Donald Trump owns stock in a company that makes COVID-19 tests. It suggested that Trump would profit from the tests. But then fact checkers learned that the information was from 2016, and Trump had sold all his stocks in 2017.
Finally, if there is an image associated with the story, look at the history of the photo. You may find out that it has been changed or misrepresented. This video shows you how to do an online image search to view a photo’s history:
Finding Credible Information
There are many reliable sources for current information about COVID-19. Here are a few that you can trust:
- CADTH COVID-19 Evidence Portal
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- Canada Public Health
- Toronto Public Health
On October 29 at 4 pm, we're hosting a virtual program for teens on Crowdcast called Misinformation Online. If you're unable to attend live, you will be able to watch the Crowdcast replay after the event.
Here are a few other useful resources to help you along:
- COVID-19 Quarantrivia: A knowledge test developed by a student and professor at the University of Waterloo
- COVID-19 Misinformation Watch: A portal from Ryerson University that tracks COVID-19 misinformation
- Media Smarts: Detailed information on authenticating information
- Doubt It: Information on spotting fake news online
- CTRL-F: Boost your infodemic immunity by learning how to spot misinformation