Evaluating Information on COVID-19 in the News and Social Media 

There is a lot of information to sort through around COVID-19, both in print, online and on social media. How do you determine what is reliable and what is not, while also staying up-to-date on the latest information? Here are some things to think about as you read and consume COVID-19-related media online

World Health Organization. Top tips for navigating the infodemic. 1. Assess the source: Who shared the information with you and where did they get it from? Even if it is friends or family, you still need to vet their source. 2. Go beyond headlines: Headlines may be intentionally sensational or provocative. 3. Identify the author: Search the author’s name to see if they are real or credible. 4. Check the date: Is it up to date and relevant to current events? Has a headline, image or statistic been used out of context? 5. Examine the supporting evidence: Credible stories back up their claims with facts. 6. Check your biases: Think about whether your own biases could affect your judgment on what is or is not trustworthy. 7. Turn on fact-checkers: Consult trusted fact-checking organizations, such as the International Fact-Checking Network and global news outlets focused on debunking misinformation. Sanitize before you share. 4 quick steps to stop the spread of misinformation. Remember: taking these steps can eliminate a large percentage of viral rumors and falsehoods. Visit newslit.org/coronavirus to learn more about sorting fact from fiction. 1. 1. Pause. Don’t let your emotions take over. 2. Glance through comments. Has someone replied to this with a fact check? 3. Do a quick search. In the search bar, turn the claim you’re checking into a question. Look for credible sources in the results. 4. Ask for the source. Reply to the person who shared the post, asking for the original source, or for other evidence supporting the claim. Raising this where others can see it lets them know that the claim is questionable. Once you’ve followed these steps: If you find credible evidence that a post isn’t true, alert others in a reply. Is the post is dangerous or harmful, report it. If you still aren’t sure that the post is true, don’t share it. Want more? Try our Checkology (registered) virtual classroom at checkology.org. Graphic created by the News Literacy Project. Newslit.org.

Take a Breath 

A simple step, but one that is extremely important in order to be a responsible information consumer. Reading through the news or scrolling through social media can sometimes provoke emotional responses and create the urge to immediately share an article or develop a conclusion. This is when misinformation and disinformation are more likely to be spread. So, before you hit the re-share button on Facebook, take a pause and dig deeper. 

Read Beyond the Headlines  

It can be tempting to stop at just the headline. However, if we only read headlines, we miss out on context or nuance. It is also important to be wary of sensationalized headlines, which can elicit charged feelings and emotions that hook readers in or aim to get more clicks 

Evaluate the Source 

When reading through news articles or social media posts, ask yourself if the sources that are cited or consulted are reliable and reputable. University of San Francisco (UCSF) Health outlines questions to consider when evaluating the trustworthiness of health sources online:  

  • Who published the information? 
  • Who are the authors? 
  • What are their credentials? 
  • Do the authors have a hidden agenda? 
  • Is the information peer reviewed? 

News Literacy Projectnonpartisan national education nonprofitcreated a resource guide focused on evaluating COVID-19 information and identifies the following reliable sources for COVID-19 information:  

Look at the Original Source 

Another great step in determining the accuracy of a claim or information is to head straight back to the original source. This step can also help us check the context of the reporting. Is a social media post discussing information from an official health organization? Head to the official website to double check claims. Is a Facebook post quoting a comment made by an official at a recent press briefing? Try and see if there is a video of the briefing and watch it in its entirely for context. 

Keep Reading 

Another way to help determine if the information you are encountering is factual and accurate is to see what others are saying about the topic. Are other news outlets reporting the same information? Or are there discrepancies? Alternatively, if no one else is reporting on the information, that also could be a red flag. Mike Caulfield, a digital media literacy expert at Washington State University Vancouverhas a helpful discussion on how to perform a news search cross-check  to find additional coverage on his media literacy resource blog Sifting Through the Pandemic.  

Be on the Lookout for ‘Red Flags’ 

University of San Francisco (UCSF) Health also provides a list of ‘red flags’ to watch out for that could signal health-related information could be inaccurate:   

  • The information is anonymous 
  • There is a conflict of interest 
  • The information is one-sided or biased 
  • The information is outdated 
  • There is a claim of a miracle or secret cure 
  • No evidence is cited 
  • The grammar is poor and words are misspelled 

Additional Links for Evaluating and Fact-checking COVID-19 Information 

Please note, the above information is not meant to replace advice from medical professionals. Please contact your health care provider for questions and concerns related to COVID-19.