False information about COVID-19 is rampant, a fact acknowledged by the WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who in February stated, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic. We’re fighting an infodemic.”
According to Italian research, every day in March 2020 an average of 46,000 new posts on Twitter linked to inaccurate or misleading information about the crisis.
The tragic nature of the virus and rapidly changing situation means that people are eager for updates about the pandemic, but healthcare misinformation undermines national and global efforts to promote behaviours that combat this virus. It may even cost you your life.
This misinformation isn’t helped by the fact that some countries are pursuing different strategies many with the very best of intentions, all of them informed by the WHO.
In Ireland we have largely turned to traditional media with significant increases in broadcast and print media consumption since mid-March and while media have an important responsibility to point out misinformation, so too does social media.
In recent months YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have moved to implement fact-checking across their platforms, however COVID-19-related misinformation and conspiracy has proliferated online.
In a post truth world where science and facts have been pilloried and misinformation is ubiquitous how can we trust the information we’re viewing? And what is the best way to separate the trustworthy from the fake?
- Firstly, check the source, check the author and check the content. Are all three credible given the topic and then check if the story is being reported elsewhere on a trusted platform.
- Be skeptical, ask yourself is it too good to be true? Or does it feel contrary to accepted norms? What’s the agenda of the author and who’s benefiting?
- Science is a specialist topic and it’s unrealistic to expect that you can vet a scientific study on your own. Check if the study has been peer-reviewed and published in a reputable journal. Do the authors work at a top-tier university? And what do other independent experts think of the results?
- Break the misinformation cycle. Never share or repost information unless you’re confident that the story is 100% accurate.
- Finally, don’t just rely on one source, go to trusted experts such as the HSE and WHO.
By: Orla Burke
Senior Partner & Head of Healthcare FleishmanHillard