We have seen many strange health news about the Covid-19 pandemic going viral on social media. This outbreak of misinformation about the pandemic has created an “infodemic” that has undermined the trust in the healthcare system.
People are believing fake news more than the experts’ advice. Fake health news are going viral because we are living a troubled time. We tend to believe all shorts of information if they appeal to our emotions.
People are trying to figure out when this pandemic will end, when they can get back to normal life. You see content that appeals to that emotion. People want validation for what they’re feeling at the time.
Fake news spreads faster and more easily today through the internet, social media and instant messaging. These messages may contain useless, incorrect or even harmful information and advice, which can hamper the public health response and add to social disorder and division.
Confusingly some fake news also contains a mixture of correct information, which makes it difficult to spot what is true and accurate. Fake news may also be shared by trusted friends and family, including those who are doctors and nurses.
Fake news are created for this vulnerable people.
A UK study found we’re more likely to go online with our symptoms before consulting our GP, pharmacist, partner, family or friends. Your doctor is the best source of health information but if you do want to find resources online, it helps to know where to find trustworthy information.
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Fake Health News: What to Look Out For
The Conversation has suggested what to look out for in health news so that you can diiferentiate fake from real news .
Source. Question the source. References have been made to “Taiwanese experts” or “Japanese doctors” or “Stanford University” during the outbreak. Check on official websites if stories are repeated there. If a source is “a friend of a friend”, this is a rumour unless you also know the person directly.
Logo: Check whether any organisation’s logo used in the message looks the same as on the official website.
Bad English: Credible journalists and organisations are less likely to make repeated spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, anything written entirely in capital letters or containing a lot of exclamation marks should raise your suspicions.
Pretend social media accounts: Some fake accounts mimic the real thing. For example, the unofficial Twitter handle @BBCNewsTonight, which was made to look like the legitimate @BBCNews account, shared a fake story about the actor Daniel Radcliffe testing positive for coronavirus. Media platforms try to remove or flag fake accounts and stories as well as verify real ones. Look out for what their policies are to try to do this.
Over-encouragement to share: Be wary if the message presses you to share – this is how viral messaging works.
Use fact-checking websites: Websites such as APFactCheck and Full Fact highlight common fake news stories. You can also use a search engine to look up the title of the article to see if it has been identified as fake news by the mainstream media.
Who to trust
The best sources to go to for health information about COVID-19 are your government health websites and the World Health Organization website. Primary sources are generally better than news articles, suggests the Conversation.
Even government messaging and the mainstream media can get things wrong, but they are more trustworthy than unverified sources on social media and viral messaging