Stay sharp: Social media sites see a surge in misinformation during coronavirus outbreak

If you’ve heard crazy rumors of biochemical warfare, cures from smoking and secret plans to start anarchical movements, you’re not alone. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are experiencing a sudden uptick in fake news following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have already pledged to find and eliminate as many sources of false information as possible. However, the wave of falsities that the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling an “infodemic,” is spreading just as quickly as the coronavirus itself.  

“I see misinformation about the coronavirus everywhere. Some people are panicking, and looking to magical cures, and other people are spreading conspiracies,” says gastroenterologist at Jefferson University Hospital, Andrew Chiang

Some of the most popular “magical cures” circulating the internet are that COVID-19 can be prevented or eliminated by drinking bleach or consuming garlic. Popular conspiracy theories include the involvement of Bill Gates in the creation and spread of the virus and the intentional release of inaccurate infection numbers by the Taiwanese government. 

“People are looking for good sources of information because a lot of what they see, when they log into their social media platforms, is just scaring them,” Chiang said.

Although social media platforms are doing their best to point users back to sources of reliable information like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO, you can spot fake news with a few quick tips:

  1. Consider the source: Do a quick search of the resource if you don’t immediately recognize the name or are unsure of whether or not they’re credible. Check the URL for misspelled words and suspicious variations to weed out fake sites posing as real ones. 
  2. Read past the headline: The headline doesn’t always tell the full story and most are written to pique your interest. So, read the full story before taking information from the preview and running with it. 
  3. Check your biases: Confirmation bias plays a role in how we analyze new information, according to USA Today. Unfortunately, sites based on false information prey on bias to spread misinformation.
  4. Confirm the story with trusted sources: Do a quick search of the topic or headline to see if it matches what sources like the CDC and WHO are reporting, then you can consider it a trusted and credible tool.

Learn more about fake news, how you can spot it and follow the CDC and WHO on Instagram and Twitter for COVID-19 updates you can trust and false information debunked.