With millions confined to their homes during the coronavirus lockdown, the connecting power of social media has been extremely powerful and is proving to be a crucial support system in this time of crisis. People around the world are afraid and uncertain about the COVID-19 pandemic, and are sharing their concerns and experiences on social media, making the hours spent inside the same four walls go by a little faster.
With Twitter and other social media sites offering instantaneous updates and news, COVID-19 is being described as the biggest major pandemic of the social media age. Unfortunately, it also drives a lot of misinformation, and many are believing the myths in their news feeds. The World Health Organization has coined the term “infodemic”, which describes an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it difficult for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
A report from the Reboot Foundation in Paris revealed that almost a third of the 1 000 respondents they interviewed across the US were misinformed on at least one aspect of the virus and, in many cases, more. Over the past few weeks, more than 1 000 tweets per minute about the virus were circulating on Twitter, often containing inaccurate information, the researchers found. This is dangerous in a time when people need reliable, accurate information to make informed decisions to help curb the spread of the virus.
Companies such as Google and YouTube are fighting the spread of misinformation on the coronavirus by promoting only authoritative information about the virus to the top of search results. Similarly, TikTok is continuously removing purposely misleading videos.
What to look out for in misleading news
Source. Question articles citing vague news sources, such as “a study” or “American doctors”. Similarly, a story is most probably a rumour if the source is “a friend of a friend”. Check whether other news sources are reporting on the story and whether the facts are correct. If you’re unsure, you can double-check the facts with organisations that promote accurate and credible content, including factcheck.org, snopes.com and africacheck.org.
Over-encouraging sharing. Viral messaging works by getting shared by the masses. If you get prompted repeatedly to share a story or article, chances are it is most likely fake news.
Bad grammar. Spelling or grammatical errors indicate that the story has not been written by a credible organisation. Also be wary of articles containing a lot of exclamation marks or capital letters.
Fake social media accounts. Fraudulent accounts on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are major sources of misinformation or propaganda, and companies are working to remove or flag these accounts and stories as well as verify real ones.