Home Perspectives Advice The COVID-19 infodemic: Spotting “fake news”

The COVID-19 infodemic: Spotting “fake news”

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U.S. President Donald Trump

Three weeks ago, you went to sleep after a long day at work or school, and by the time you opened your eyes in the morning, the world was a very different place. While COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic that the world has seen, it’s the first pandemic with the world so strongly dominated by social media, blogs, influencers, and televised reports.

This is unchartered territory for global pandemics. Information is spread so quickly that it cannot be filtered or verified. The end result becomes bare shelves in the grocery stores and a lack of trust within communities and toward our government.

While the general public doesn’t need access to the detailed research and evidence that the front line medical staff and experts are working with, it’s important to know how to get accurate and timely updates. All over social media, unverified information has been physically dangerous and is affecting the mental health of those around us. It has also caused much confusion as to how to handle one’s self during this time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new platform to fight what they’re calling the “COVID-19 Infodemic”, the official name given to the mass spread of inaccurate or unconfirmed information, contributing to hysteria, panic, and confusion through the public. At present, the infodemic has included everything from medication recommendations, all the way to conspiracy theories.

There are several types of information lumped into this infodemic. First, there is much on social media that is false, been debunked, or found to be a hoax.

Complicating this, not all of the inaccurate information is definitively false. There is a second type (and perhaps the more dangerous portion) of information that falls into unverified claims. In the instance of COVID-19, this includes reports of miracle drugs, drugs to avoid, pollution, mask wearing, government planning, fiscal planning, and more. Claims that may be anecdotally true but have not yet been supported by enough evidence to confirm.

Thankfully, many social media sites and search engines have stepped up and taken responsibility. To minimize the spread of what we now casually refer to as “fake news”, banners have been placed on their sites pointing the public to the WHO webpage for accurate information, when “COVID-19”, “coronavirus” or like terms are searched. The centre for disease control, and canada.ca are similar pages that may have more local information available.

The absolute best way to get accurate information during any media storm, such as this infodemic, is to stick to primary sources. Listen directly to your authorities, such as the Prime Minister, Premier, your medical doctor, or rabbi. These people are in the best position to give accurate and timely information. Once this information passes through a news station, or your favourite influencer, it is usually no longer strictly factual information.

Using common sense is also key to sifting through information. Understand that during this time, the nature of news reports will be difficult to stomach. Picking high quality news stations ensures that the news you’re getting is accurate and not designed to build scare or hype.

Also understand that social media is a place where everyone has a voice. There are articles, personal stories and opinion pieces posted that can scare you, and while they have their place, it is important to know that they are not official news. If you have personal concerns of anxiety, it may be a good idea to scroll past these posts.

Finding medical professionals, reporters, and authorities you trust can ease the burden of trying to sift through what is designed to scare you, versus what is important to know for you and your family.

Being patient plays a large role in spotting factual versus fake news. Drug reports and even the number of cases can take time to be updated. Today’s numbers are based on testing from days ago. It can be frustrating not having answers immediately. Know that these things are not instant, and know where to look or who to speak to for the most accurate and up to date information.

It can be easy to get caught up in the media storm surrounding any topic of concern. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a primary health practitioner, financial professional, or spiritual leader that you feel safe taking information from. You can also find quality government information at www.canada.ca.

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