While it is safe to say that COVID-19 has grappled the world and brought it to its knees, the issue of spreading misinformation is making it even worse. Thanks to growing internet penetration globally and easy access to multiple information-sharing platforms, wrong information being spread is becoming more rampant.
From natural remedies that claim to cure coronavirus to how the virus came about, there is a lot of controversial information being spread, most of which are baseless. This kind of misinformation can be detrimental to the many efforts made to fight COVID-19 by creating more panic among the public in some cases. This also leads to some of the genuine information on public portals being overshadowed by the wrong ones.
Here are some ways you can spot COVID-19 misinformation:
One of the first things you need to check is the source of information. A simple google search of the text should be able to give you the source. Information may even claim to be given directly by those working in prestigious institutions and organizations like the WHO or renowned universities. In such a case, check the organizations' official websites to see if the information is stated there.
Some messages may even come with the logo or a website of the said organizations. In this case, you should always cross-check the authenticity of the link and the logo. Considering how rife the internet is with misinformation, it is safe to assume that any piece of content you consume that is not from a reliable news site can be considered a rumor till you have double-checked its sources.
Most of these messages that spread misinformation are written in poor English. This is one of the first red flags you can spot even before making any attempt to check whether the information is genuine. Any messages that are all caps, have major grammatical errors, or have other peculiar issues like way too many question marks are rumors more often than not, even if they claim to have a reputable news source.
Check how recent the information is
Occasionally, the information in a message or post may be right in terms of the facts stated. However, this information may not be recent and may have been originally posted in another context. These type messages are then circulated, claiming to be related to COVID-19.
This is one of the biggest challenges at beating misinformation in public. Most people stop cross-checking the information when they find out that it has a credible source and do not consider looking at when it was released.
Look for regional myth-busting websites
Several regional and international websites continuously call out fake news and misinformation pieces with ample proof to support their claim. These websites can be your go-to tool for spotting misinformation. If a message you have received has been widely circulated, there is a very good chance that these sites have already featured information about it.
What to do if you spot misinformation?
One of the most important things that can curb the spread of misinformation is taking the right steps once you have spotted it. Here are some things you can do to contribute towards this fight against the rampant spread of wrong information on social media or messaging tools.
Let the person who has shared the message/image know
One of the basic things you can do to stop any misinformation from spreading further is to inform the person sharing it about the same. If you have seen any misinformation regarding COVID-19 on a social media platform or on a WhatsApp group, it is better to confront the person privately to ensure that he/she does not get defensive.
Undo your mistakes
If you are the person who has shared a wrong piece of news on social media and has been corrected by someone, make sure to take it in the right stride. Do not get defensive about it and try to take down the information as soon as possible. In case this is not possible, share a message or post or image about your realization.
Most importantly, if you have got this piece of wrong information from someone else, make sure that you let that person also know, so he/she can rectify it as well. While these steps may not completely undo the spread of wrong information, it is a step in the right direction.
COVID-19 misinformation can be as dangerous as COVID-19 itself. Always stay curious about the information you get and make sure it is authentic before you share it. This is applicable to not just COVID-19 related information but for every topic.