Corona Virus and Social Media: How to limit the spread of fear through fake news

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The COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably serious and must not be taken lightly. However, there is much-unwarranted fear due to a lot of fake news going around via social media.

Through several social media networks, a wave of inaccuracy is spreading on coronavirus, which to a large extent is plunging the world into a state of panic and fear.

From offering unverified home remedies to tackle the virus, to floating fake advisories asking people to avoid certain foods, and sharing conspiracy theories, our phones are being flooded with misinformation.

Public health authorities worldwide have asked people to change their habits to slow the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic. They implore citizens to wash their hands more frequently, to avoid large gatherings and to put themselves in voluntary quarantine if they feel flu-like symptoms.

But as health authorities attempt to calm the public, coronavirus mis- and disinformation is spreading through social media.

Here are a few tips you can follow to avoid infecting your friends’ and family’s feeds with disinformation.


1. Only share trustworthy sources you know well

Social media connects the world. It also exposes us to sources of information from around the world. In normal times, it’s already difficult to tell trustworthy sources from untrustworthy ones. In times of crisis, it’s even harder.

Only share news from local media sources you are familiar with. If you’ve never heard of the media outlet or the social media account that is putting forward a piece of information, don’t share it. The same thing goes for posts about supposed “cures” or health tips to help with COVID-19: Only trust local public health authorities.


2. Be wary of videos or pictures that purport to show ‘what’s going on’

Since the beginning of the crisis, there has been an enormous number of images circulating on social media. These images often purport to show what’s going in on in this or that country.

Not only is it often impossible to verify these videos, which likely have been filmed by unknown people in undisclosed locations, but it is also much too easy to take videos or pictures out of context and subvert the meaning. For example, we’ve seen videos months and years back being applied to the present crisis, presenting a false narrative. Instead of sharing pictures and videos circulating in Facebook posts and tweets, look for articles that explain the context instead.


3. Avoid speculation

No one can predict the future, no matter how smart they claim to be. The present crisis is evolving extremely rapidly. What was true yesterday might not be true today.

Avoid sharing posts that contain speculation about what’s about to unfold. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Absorb information one day at a time. Follow trustworthy news sources as the crisis evolves.

Speculation — often from unqualified or untrustworthy sources — can lead to fear and panic.


4. Make less noise

The coronavirus worries everyone. It’s normal to want to give our opinion on social media, to try to join the conversation. On the other hand, social media feeds have a glut of COVID-19 posts from all sorts of sources. That not only confuses people but also leads to a type of paralysis as people ask who and what should I believe? What should I think?

Before clicking “publish,” ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Why do I want to share this?
  • Am I propagating fear and confusion?
  • Am I helping to inform my friends?

Don’t be quick to share everything you see on social media. Employ these tips and help reduce the spread of fake news in this time of crisis.

Tips initially shared by CBC.

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