How to Tell Coronavirus Disinformation From the Real Facts Online

By Alex Dulcianu / March 27, 2020

While the Internet is by far one of the most important modern inventions, thanks to the fact that it can provide anyone with an endless supply of free information, it is also one of the most dangerous tools bad people currently have at their disposal.

As it turns out, people do not like to fact-check the information they find online. Every headline is taken at face value if it sounds convincing enough, which means that people are very prone to disinformation and “fake news”. This is obviously not a new problem, but matters are considerably more serious now when the world is facing a major pandemic, and human lives are at risk.

In fact, publications have already started to pump out disinformation regarding the Coronavirus, including things like conspiracy theories about the virus’ origin, as well as shady cures that are supposed to make you shake off the disease with no medical intervention. While most people probably wouldn’t fall for these articles, it only takes a handful of believers to believe them in order for things to get worse.

On the other hand, it should be mentioned that it’s actually not as easy as you may think to distinguish between misinformation and facts in today’s online climate. This is mainly because people have gotten very good at spreading lies and propaganda over the last few years, and also because there are now major corporations that spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to disseminate false information in the most effective way possible.

With that in mind, there are still some ways you can fact-check what you read around the Internet. Not only that, but there are also some telltale signs you can watch out for when reading a news piece, such as the use of particular keywords, or an emphasis on certain phrases that are repeated multiple times throughout the article.

Finally, here’s what you need to do in order to distinguish between disinformation and real facts in the case of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Check the Information Against Multiple Sources

Man Checking Multiple Books

This is a classic fact-checking method that’s been around for much longer than the Internet has, and it’s that much more important nowadays. In essence, you need to make sure that you do not take any bit of information as being true until you check with at least two or three other sources to confirm.

In the case of reputable publications like BBC or CNN, most articles will have a list of sources at the bottom in order to allow you to read the original press releases or statements. If you do not see anything of the sort, then you have to manually search for similar articles, preferably from trusted media companies, not just random blogs.

Speaking of which, keep in mind that if the headlines are truly ridiculous, it may actually be easier to find multiple shady websites reporting the same thing. Obviously, that does not count as fact-checking, because it’s very easy for someone to set up multiple websites and basically rehash the same content across all of them.

This is actually one of the biggest traps you can fall into in regards to disinformation, and that is also why companies like Cambridge Analytica manage to influence millions of people worldwide. By spreading the same false information across multiple seemingly normal websites and using social platforms like Facebook and Reddit, it’s very easy to make any news story seem legitimate.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason such companies are worth billions of dollars, which is why it can be very difficult to be aware of their campaigns. In the case of the Coronavirus, however, it should be a bit simpler to distinguish between fact and fantasy, because there’s no reason to trust a blogger or a journalist over the doctors and scientists who actually know what they are talking about.

Avoid Getting Your Information From Facebook or Twitter

Social Media Keyboard Buttons

It would seem like people have forgotten what social media platforms were originally designed for. Back in the day, websites like Facebook were used for chatting with friends, posting pictures of yourself, and sharing memes. No one in their right mind would trust any information posted there since the platform was not deemed a trustworthy source by anyone.

Things have changed in the last decade, however. In fact, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook are by far the most commonly used tools when it comes to spreading disinformation. All it takes is for someone to spend a bit of money in order to promote a post, and that bit of information is quickly picked up by millions of people around the globe, usually with no vetting process whatsoever.

If you are asking yourself why that’s the case, then maybe the fact that world leaders are basically declaring war on each other on Twitter might clear things up a bit. Thus, when social media is seen as good enough for presidents and other politicians, it’s no wonder that people seem to believe that Twitter and Facebook are trustworthy news outlets. Otherwise, why would the president of the United States use them all the time?

That is not the case at all, however. In spite of the recent announcements by Facebook in regards to stopping the spread of misinformation and fake news, this process is far from perfect, which means that it’s still very easy for someone to manipulate the public using their platform.

The best way to avoid this is to stop getting your news from Facebook altogether, regardless of whether we are talking about Coronavirus-related news or something else. For some people, this may be easier said than done, but at the very least, you should fact-check the articles and consult additional sources.

There Are No Miracle Cures or Remedies for Coronavirus. Period.

Potion Bottles

If any article you read claims to tell you of a cure for COVID-19, you can immediately disregard it as fake. It’s as simple as that. Given the fact that thousands of doctors and scientists are working on the matter right now, it would be pretty incredible if someone broke the news about a cure on a no-name blog or on Facebook, wouldn’t it?

In fact, you only need to remember the fact that the common flu has been around for hundreds of years and there’s still no cure for it - only a vaccine that doesn’t always work -, due to the fact that the virus mutates a bit every year, requiring new vaccines.

Granted, the flu can be treated with medicine in order to speed up the recovery process, but there’s no miracle pill or plant that simply makes you better the next day. And we’ve had hundreds of years of experience with Influenza at this point, which means that it’s really impossible for anyone to claim that they’ve found a Coronavirus cure a few months after the first case emerged.

Furthermore, you should also keep in mind the fact that no essential oils will help with Coronavirus either, given the fact that modern medicine tells us they don’t work for anything anyway. That doesn’t stop peddlers from making such claims, however, mainly because they want to offload as much product as possible, and they are taking advantage of the panic in order to do so.

Simply put, any headlines that mention the word cure are either trying to trick you, or they are clickbait to attract traffic to their websites.

Try to Find Out Whether the Person Being Quoted in the Article Is Real or Not

Invisible Man

One way scammers try to trick people is by including supposed quotes from “experts” and “scientists.” Naturally, this is exactly the type of thing you would want to see in an article about a deadly disease because we really don’t need the opinions of famous people or politicians. However, it’s always a good idea to do a bit of research when it comes to the individuals being quoted because you’d be surprised at how many of them are actually made up.

Many shady publications rely on these fake quotes in order to make their articles appear more trustworthy, given the fact that people do not usually bother verifying these quotes for authenticity.

On top of that, you should also know that quotes can be taken out of context and presented in a very different light, depending on the website’s intention. Hence, while you may indeed find that quote mentioned somewhere else on the Internet, you may also find out that those few sentences are actually part of a larger statement. Not only that, but the full statement usually has a very different conclusion when taken as a whole, which is not evident from the bits and bobs quoted by the fake news website.

Given the fact that it only takes a simple Google search in order to check the validity of a quote or the person behind it, it really shouldn’t be too difficult to do this every time you stumble upon a questionable news story.

Final Thoughts

To sum things up, the list of steps you have to follow in order to make sure you are not falling for a disinformation campaign is pretty short: Double-check the facts by searching for multiple sources, avoid getting your news from social media, and make sure you are not trusting quotes taken from fictional people.

As it’s becoming clearer every day that this pandemic is going to last for a while, it’s very important to remain calm and well-informed throughout this period. Unfortunately, many people see this crisis as the perfect opportunity for propaganda and misinformation, which makes it that much more difficult to believe anything you read online.

It’s also worth noting that many governments and agencies are still trying to blame each other for this situation, which is why you will often see news stories that try to rile people up against certain countries and regimes.

This is definitely not the time for people to hate each other, which is why it’s a good idea to ignore such articles until everyone is alright and things go back to normal, or as close to normal as they can get in the following months.

Until then, make sure you do your due diligence whenever you read something, and it’s also a good idea to help your friends do the same in case you notice them fall prey to misinformation.

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