Coronavirus: Fact & Fiction

Are you struggling with what to believe about the Coronavirus?

I’m not objective when it comes to the importance of media literacy skills, I think they should be taught starting at birth. And these skills get more necessary every day.

Which brings us to the Coronavirus. The only thing traveling faster than the virus is false information about the virus. What should we do about it? I have a few suggestions.

It might help to get your news from non-commercial sources. No news source is perfect, but in this case, a site that does not sell add space might provide more reasoned information. The economic structure of our news system means that they benefit from us staying on their sites longer…and nothing sells better than fear.

This site from Johns Hopkins is really interesting and data-driven. Since PBS does not sell advertising and is therefore not ratings-driven, it can also provide more measured coverage. The BBC is also not ratings-driven since it gets its financing from TV licenses. I’m not saying these sources are perfect, but they’re my first choice when it comes to being rational. Still not sure? Check out this video that was done during the Ebola crisis to see the difference between UK coverage and US coverage.

Another thing to remember that is most people on Facebook and Twitter are NOT public health experts. In fact, these same people claiming to know public health were probably also claiming to be constitutional law scholars during the impeachment trail. I don’t envy social media platforms – the sheer volume of content makes them impossible to police even though they are trying. Looks like Facebook groups make policing misinformation even more difficult.

Here’s a collection of memes and misinformation about the virus, courtesy of our friends at Snopes. They also have a collection of origin theories and treatments that are not to be believed. Are you wondering why people create, share and believe these fakes? So was the Huffington Post, and what they found out was fascinating.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is this: if a message creates a strong emotional response in you, that’s your first clue that you should check it for authenticity. Does it make you angry, sad, thrilled or terrified? Then check it out. Do some lateral reading, which means that you open a ton of tabs and see what other sites are saying about the source you are currently consuming. Don’t always trust the “about” page. After all, those are easy enough to fake and nobody reads the small print. Just ask Bernie.

Check Snopes. Check the News Literacy Project. Check First Draft News. Check HoaxSlayer. Check a site’s Page Rank. Check to see if that photo is old using Google Reverse Image Search. Check Google’s Fact Check Tool. Check TrendsMap.

I’m not saying this isn’t an important story. It is. But getting accurate information about the story is necessary. Don’t fall for the fear. Look for facts.

And don’t forget to wash your hands.

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