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What to believe nowadays?

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

We are all being exposed to a huge amount of COVID-19 information every day. However, not all of it is reliable. Here are some tips for telling the difference and stopping the spread of misinformation by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Due to COVID-19, most of us have a new word in our vocabulary: epidemiology. It is the branch of medical science that deals with the ways diseases are transmitted and can be controlled in a population. Now it is time to learn another new word: infodemiology.

As humans, we are a curious and innovative species. We want to understand the world around us and stay up to date on the challenges we face and how to overcome them. One of the ways we do this is by seeking out and sharing information – lots of it! And internet platforms like Whatsapp, Youtube, or Facebook make this easier than ever before.

Traditionally, people received their information from official communication channels from governments and health agencies. But now, there are news articles and opinion pieces, and messages from vloggers, bloggers, podcasters, and social media influencers. You may also see information shared by friends and family on social media or messaging apps.

All of this is called the infodemic: a flood of information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Infodemiology is the study of that information and how to manage it.

Navigating the infodemic: top tips to identify misinformation or disinformation

Here are 7 steps you can take to navigate this wave of information and decide who and what to trust:

1. Assess the source Who shared the information with you and where did they get it from? Always check the source, even if it is a friend or family member. To check for fake social media accounts, you can check how long profiles have been active, their number of followers, and their most recent posts, for example. For websites, check the “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages to look for background information and legitimate contact details. When it comes to images or videos, there are a number of tools you can use to check their authenticity. For images, you can use Google and TinEye to find out where the image appears online. For videos, you can use Amnesty International's YouTube DatViewer, which gives you more information about the video. Other clues that a source may be unreliable or inaccurate are unprofessional visual design, poor spelling, and grammar, or excessive use of all caps or exclamation points.

2. Go beyond headlines It is very common for headlines to be intentionally sensational or provocative to catch your attention and get high numbers of clicks. Read more than just the headline of an article – go further and look at the entire story, because going by the headline alone can be very misleading. Search more widely than social media for information – look at print sources such as newspapers and magazines, and digital sources such as podcasts and online news sites. Diversifying your sources allows you to get a better picture of what is or is not trustworthy.

3. Identify the author Search the author’s name online to see if they are real or credible. Additionally, you might be able to find out the motive of the author to write the piece.

4. Check the date Always check if it's a recent story. Is it up to date and relevant to current events? Has a headline, image, or statistic been used out of context?

5. Examine the supporting evidence Credible stories back up their claims with facts – for example, quotes from experts or links to statistics or studies. Verify that experts are reliable and that links actually support the story.

6. Check your biases We all have biases and these factor into how we view what’s happening around us. Evaluate your own biases and why you may have been drawn to a particular headline or story. This is because people have a natural tendency to look for arguments that confirm what they already believe and ignore articles and arguments that state otherwise.

What is your interpretation of it? Why did you react to it that way? Does it challenge your assumptions or tell you what you want to hear? What did you learn about yourself from your interpretation or reaction?

7. Turn to fact-checkers When in doubt, consult trusted fact-checking organizations, such as the International Fact-Checking Network and global news outlets focused on debunking misinformation, including the Associated Press and Reuters.

What is the difference between Misinformation and Disinformation? Information is what we call things that are accurate to the best of our current knowledge. For instance, COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease in 2019 and is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One of the difficulties with any new pathogen, like this coronavirus, is that information changes over time as we learn more about science.

Misinformation, on the other hand, is false information. More importantly, it is false information that was not created with the intention of hurting others. Misinformation is often started by someone who genuinely wants to understand a topic and cares about keeping other people safe and well. It is then shared by others who feel the same. Everyone believes they are sharing good information – but unfortunately, they are not. And depending on what is being shared, the misinformation can turn out to be quite harmful.

At the other end of the spectrum is disinformation. Unlike misinformation, this is false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm. That harm could be to a person, a group of people, an organization, or even a country. Disinformation generally serves some agenda and can be dangerous. During this pandemic, we are seeing it used to try to erode our trust in each other and in our government and public institutions.

How to navigate misinformation and disinformation It helps to think of misinformation and disinformation spreading in the same way as viruses (ironic not?). One person might share fake news with their friends and family, and then a handful of them share it with more of their friends and family, and before you know it, potentially harmful or dangerous information is taking over everyone’s newsfeed.

But just as we can protect against COVID-19 with hand washing, physical distancing, and masks, we can slow down the spread of misinformation and disinformation by practicing some information hygiene. So, before sharing something, ask yourself these questions: How does this make me feel? Why am I sharing this? How do I know if it’s true? Where did it come from? Whose agenda might I be supported by sharing it?

If you know something is false, or if it makes you angry, don’t share it to debunk it or make fun of it. That just spreads the misinformation or disinformation further. Good places to go for reliable information are the websites of your national Ministry of Health or the World Health Organization. Remember, though: information will change as we learn more about the virus. What WHO is doing WHO has developed guidance to help individuals, community leaders, governments and the private sector understand some key actions they can take to manage the COVID-19 infodemic. For instance, WHO has been working closely with more than 50 digital companies and social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest, Google, Viber, WhatsApp, and YouTube, to ensure that science-based health messages from the organization or other official sources appear first when people search for information related to COVID-19. WHO has also partnered with the Government of the United Kingdom on a digital campaign to raise awareness of misinformation around COVID-19 and encourage individuals to report false or misleading content online. In addition, WHO is creating tools to amplify public health messages – including its WHO Health Alert chatbot, available on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber – to provide the latest news and information on how individuals can protect themselves and others from COVID-19. A version of this content from the WHO has been adapted for use by the WYCCF to make it more applicable to the local situation.

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