Fake News: How To Spot Misinformation During The Coronavirus Crisis Experts say the coronavirus outbreak may be the biggest source of Internet misinformation ever. Fake cures, unscientific tips, and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are flooding the Internet — but there are ways to sniff out misinformation.
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Comic: Fake News Can Be Deadly. Here's How To Spot It

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Comic: Fake News Can Be Deadly. Here's How To Spot It

Comic: Fake News Can Be Deadly. Here's How To Spot It

Comic: Fake News Can Be Deadly. Here's How To Spot It

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/837202898/837259304" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Health officials right now aren't just having to battle an illness with no known cure or vaccine — they're having to fight back against Internet trolls and conspiracy theorists. The World Health Organization has labeled the current moment an "infodemic."

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"While the virus spreads, misinformation makes the job of our heroic health workers even harder. It diverges attention of our decision-makers and it causes confusion and spreads fear to the general public," says the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

You've probably come across a piece of bad information online, and you might not even know it. The virus was not created in a lab as a bioweapon, for instance, and inhaling hot air from a hair dryer is not a cure.

Experts say this outbreak may be the biggest source of Internet misinformation ... ever.

Life Kit wants to help. Here's a comic to help you sharpen your misinformation Spidey senses:

Two cats are having a conversation. The one wearing glasses asks, "Did you know that people are drinking less Corona beer because of the coronavirus?" The second cat, wearing a bandanna, replies, "Actually, that's not true. I can send you articles debunking this." "Oh no!" says the first cat, "I've been telling everyone! If I got this wrong, what other lies have I spread?"
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"Don't worry, quarantine pal!" says Glasses Cat. "That's a perfectly normal response right now." "Really?" Bandanna Cat says. "Yeah, let me explain ..."
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Glasses cat speaking and pointing to charts on a whiteboard: "Viral rumors tend to spike during large news events, driven by various actors. Their motivations could be self-interest, malicious intent, financial gain or genuine altruism."
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
"But there are a couple reasons why this 'infodemic' is particularly bad," says Glasses Cat. Kate Starbird, from the University of Washington, adds on, "Crisis events have uncertainty, which usually resolves quickly, and here it's persistent." Emma Spiro, from the University of Washington, adds, "This has become a global event, so information isn't limited to localized channels or perspectives."
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"Oh, I see!" says Bandanna Cat. "How can I practice good information hygiene then?" "Well, here are some easy tips to follow," answers Glasses Cat.
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"So like a virus, we need to do our part in flattening the curve of misinformation right now!" says Glasses Cat. Below is an example of how misinformation could spread to cause real world consequences. A tweet saying "if you can hold your breath without coughing, you're not infected" gets passed to several cats, one who decides to go outside and another who decides not to seek medical attention. Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR hide caption

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Tip 1: Exercise Skepticism. When you hear or see now information, first pause and be doubtful. Then investigate — do a fact check and/or ask for the source. Finally, if the information is false, let others know. If you're not sure, then don't share it — break the chain!
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
A chat conversation is depicted where someone sends a link to misinformation. Bandanna Cat reads the link, gets emotional and wants to share the link, but remembers to take a moment to check. After checking, they tell the other person that the link directly contradicts the CDC's instructions.
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
Tip 2: Understand the misinformation landscape. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have no financial obligation to tell the truth. If you need to perform a fact check, do a quick online search, or look at the websites for the CDC or World Health Organization. Snopes and other fact-checking sites are also good resources.
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
Tip 3: Be extra careful when you encounter emotional, divisive or breaking news stories. That's when misinformation is most common and effective.
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
Tip 4: And finally, be gentle with each other. If someone you know is spreading misinformation, try starting a private conversation by assuming best interests. The truth is important, but so is taking care of each other right now. Glasses Cat and Bandanna Cat hug each other.
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR