How to Spot Fake News

How to Spot Fake News

As an information professional with over 20 years experience, I’ve been deeply troubled by the spread of misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Internet is a wonderful tool that enables people to access information quickly and easily; however, not all information is accurate or trustworthy. It can even be dangerous. I’ve put together a list of things to consider when viewing (certainly before sharing) new information regarding Covid-19.

Become an Information Detective  

  1. Approach information that seems too good or too outrageous to be true with a healthy dose of skepticism. 
  2. Beware of hot button issues. 
  3. Consider the source. 
  4. Search out information from other media outlets. 
  5. Perform a simple Google search and see what else pops up, then repeat steps 1-3. 
  6. If the information doesn’t quite add up, don’t share it!

 

Consider Your Bias

It’s important to remember that social media algorithms re-enforce your bias. Anytime you interact with posts or ads on social media, digital information is being gained on your preferences. You likely noticed this when it first started happening. You shop on a particular site, then you start seeing ads for them in your Facebook feed. Over time, you become used to it as you scroll absentmindedly. Research shows that social media platforms expose users to a less diverse set of sources than do non-social media sites like Wikipedia. 


Beware the Bot

Bots are fake accounts on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They are very common and most people have had some kind of interaction with them. The are usually managed by automated programs controlled by human users or hackers. Their goal is to spread discord and misinformation and they’ve been pretty successful doing so since 2016, but it’s been especially rampant during this time. For futher reading:

https://www.sciencealert.com/bots-are-causing-anxiety-by-spreading-coronavirus-misinformation

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/biases-make-people-vulnerable-to-misinformation-spread-by-social-media/ 


15 Minutes of Fame

I’m sure many of you have seen the video of the chiropractor in Missouri claiming tonic water and zinc protects people against Covid-19. Didn’t his solution seem too good to be true? A little too easy? If anything, his instructions to “Share! Share! Share!” his video should have aroused suspicion.  

https://www.snopes.com/news/2020/04/15/real-doctor-tonic-water/ 

https://factcheck.afp.com/false-zinc-and-tonic-covid-19-cure-floods-social-media 

https://www.newsbreak.com/missouri/st.-louis/news/0OhcCmWC/can-tonic-water-and-zinc-help-prevent-coronavirus-doctors-say-no

How about the two doctors in Bakersfield, Calif.? Didn’t it seem strange that their downplaying of the threat of Covid-19 and its spread was in direct opposition to experts such as Dr. Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID)? What is the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) saying? How about the World Health Organization (WHO) 

The American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has condemned the messaging of these two doctors as “reckless” and “untested musings.” 

https://www.aaem.org/resources/statements/joint-endorsed/physician-misinformation


The Bottom Line  

If I get a whiff of impropriety in a social media post, I don’t share it. Do I sometimes make mistakes? Yes. And when I do, I promptly delete the posts. I urge everyone to show some restraint during this difficult time. Misinformation can be dangerous. 

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions put together this nice infographic to help:

How to Spot Fake News

Stay safe – and informed!