Coronavirus: Here’s how you can stop bad information from going viral
The disinformation of the coronavirus is flooding the Internet and experts are asking the public to practice “information hygiene”. What can you do to stop the spread of incorrect information?
1. Stop and think
You want to help family and friends and keep them up to date. So when you receive new recommendations, by email, WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, you could quickly forward them to them.
But experts say the first thing you can do to stop disinformation is to simply stop and think.
If in doubt, pause and check it further.
2. Check your source
Before submitting it, ask some basic questions about where the information came from.
It is a large red flag if the source is “a friend of a friend” or “the neighbor of a colleague of my aunt’s house”.
“The most reliable sources of information remain public health bodies such as the NHS, the World Health Organization, or the Centers for disease control and prevention in the United States, “says Claire Milne, deputy director of the UK-based fact-checking organization Complete fact.
Experts are not foolproof. But they are much more reliable than a stranger’s distant relatives on WhatsApp.
3. Could it be a fake?
Appearances can be deceptive.
Official accounts and authorities, including BBC News and the government, can be impersonated. The screenshots can also be edited to make it appear that the information comes from a trusted public body.
Check known and verified accounts and websites. If you can’t find the information easily, it could be a hoax. And if a post, video or link looks suspicious – it probably is.
Capital letters and mismatched characters are something that fact controllers use as an indicator that a post may be misleading, according to Full Fact’s Claire Milne.
4. Not sure if it’s true? Don’t share
Do not forward things on “just in case”, they may be true. You could do more harm than good.
We often publish articles in places where we know there are experts, such as doctors or medical professionals. It may be OK, but make sure you’re very clear about your doubts. And beware: the photo or text you share may later be deprived of its context.
5. Check each fact individually
When long lists of tips are sent to you, it’s easy to believe everything in them just because you know for sure that one of the tips (say, about hand washing) is true.
But this is not always the case. Don’t assume that any information in a post is true simply because you know that part of the message is definitely correct.
6. Beware of emotional posts
It is the stuff that makes us fearful, angry, anxious or joyful that tends to go truly viral.
“Fear is one of the biggest drivers that allows disinformation to thrive,” says Claire Wardle First draft, an organization that helps journalists deal with disinformation online.
Urgent appeals to action are designed to increase anxiety, so be careful.
“People want to help their loved ones stay safe, so when they see” Tips for preventing the virus! “or” Take this health supplement! “people want to do everything they can to help,” he says.
7. Think about prejudices
Are you sharing something because you know it’s true – or just because you agree with it?
Carl Miller, research director of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at the think tank Demos, states that we are more likely to share posts that reinforce our existing beliefs.
“It is when we are nodding angrily in the head that we are the most vulnerable,” he says. “This is when, above all, we just have to slow down everything we do online.”
Have you seen misleading information or doubts about it?.
With additional reports from BBC Monitoring