When it comes to infectious diseases, like COVID-19, not sharing is caring. When it comes to misinformation, especially about COVID-19, not sharing is also caring.
As the world responds to the pandemic, we are facing the challenge of an overabundance of information. Unfortunately, many of this information may be false, misleading, and potentially harmful. False information spreads widely and most of the time faster than accurate information, making it more difficult for everyone to identify verified facts and advice from trusted sources, such as your local health authority or the World Health Organization (WHO).
We can blame bots and trolls for these problems but in reality, it’s our own fault for sharing. Research has confirmed that lies spread faster than truth – mainly because they are not bound to the same rules as truth.
How do I know if it’s misinformation or not?
1. Did it spark anger or fear?
If something you read online causes intense feelings, that should be a red flag not to share it, at least not share it right away.
2. Did it confirm what you already thought?
If you’re reading something that matches so well with what you had already thought, you may be inclined to say “Yes, that’s true. I need to share this.” But just because something is confirming what you already think is true does not necessarily mean that it is true. As human beings, we are motivated to confirm what we already believe and to avoid unpleasant feelings associated with challenging our beliefs.
3. Who said it?
Politicians and other public figures do not always tell the truth (Surprise! Surprise!) Double-check the alleged fact, of course. If the post is from a family member or a friend, it is also not a guarantee that what he or she said is factual. Does he/she have the necessary experience and expertise to talk about the subject? Or is he/she just parroting whatever he/she read somewhere? You need to rely on old-fashioned critical thinking to evaluate what he/she says. If evaluating the message is too much work and you do not have time to do it, you don’t have to “like” and you don’t have to “share.”
4. What’s the source?
The Media Bias/Fact Check website is one place to look to find out whether a particular news source has a partisan bias. Is the source a blog or a YouTube video? Remember that anyone can write a blog or upload a video on YouTube. Fact-checking is not a requirement to write a blog or record and post a video on YouTube.
5. Have you checked the facts?
There are a lot of reputable fact-checking organizations, like Snopes or FactCheck. For information on coronavirus, always check the Department of Health, WHO Philippines, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office Twitter account or the WHO COVID-19 site.
Stopping the pandemic will only be possible if we also stop the infodemic of misinformation about the virus, SARS-CoV-2, the disease COVID-19 and the public health measures needed to beat the pandemic.
To protect yourself – and those in your social or professional networks – be vigilant. If you do not have time to verify, don’t share. If you spent enough time to check and have concluded that it is untrue, don’t share. If you are not sure, also don’t share. Trolls, and misinformation bots are working very hard to divide us. Do not help them.
If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the hosting social media platform. How? Check out this article from the WHO.
Dr. Melvin Sanicas (@Vaccinologist) is a physician-scientist specializing in vaccines, infectious diseases, and global health.