• An infodemic of misinformation and disinformation has emerged around COVID-19.
  • This ranges from false cures to conspiracy theories about the virus itself.
  • The World Health Organization has released tips to help sort fact from fiction.
  • Always check sources and be aware of your own biases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a wave of unreliable information about the virus. So how do we know who and what to believe?

“Infodemiology” – studying the flood of information about the pandemic and how to manage it – is something the World Health Organization wants us all to become well-versed in. And it has devised some simple tips to help us decide what we can and can't trust.

Whether it’s misinformation (false information that wasn’t created with the intention of hurting others) or disinformation (false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm), the WHO says it spreads just like a virus, passing from person to person.

information fake news infodemic Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
The WHO says false information spreads like a virus, resulting in potentially harmful or dangerous information taking over many people’s newsfeeds.
Image: WHO

Since the start of the pandemic there’s been a surge in false information, exploiting people’s fears and anxieties about COVID-19, according to research by PwC. This ranges from false cures to conspiracy theories about the virus.

So to help halt the “infodemic”, the WHO suggests applying these tests to any information you hear about COVID-19.

1. Assess the source

Who passed on the information and where did they get it from? Always vet their source yourself; don’t take their word for it, even if they are family or friends. Check how long social media profiles have been active, their number of followers and their most recent posts. For websites, search for background information and legitimate contact details. Other signs that an online source is unreliable include spelling mistakes, too many capital letters and exclamation marks.

2. Go beyond headlines

Don’t be influenced by just the headlines – read the entire story and use non-social media sources like newspapers, podcasts and news sites to check the veracity of a headline. “Diversifying your sources allows you to get a better picture of what is trustworthy,” says the WHO.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

3. Identify the author

Search the author’s name online to see if they are real or credible. If they claim to be a professional person, check for their profile on LinkedIn. If they say they are an academic, look on the website of the institution to which they say they belong.

4. Check the date

The WHO says you should always ask these questions when you come across information: Is this a recent story? Is it up to date and relevant to current events? Does it have a headline, image or statistic that has been used out of context?

information fake news infodemic Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Tips for handing the infodemic.
Image: WHO

5. Examine the supporting evidence

Credible stories source their facts by including quotes from experts or links to statistics or studies. Verify that experts are reliable by searching for them online and follow links to check they really do back up the story.

6. Check your biases

Our personal biases shape how we see the world. Ask yourself why you have been drawn to a particular headline or story. How did you react to the story and why?

7. Turn to fact-checkers

There are more than 300 fact checking organisations in 84 countries, according to research by Duke University, many of which are members of the International Fact-Checking Network. Global news outlets which employ fact-checkers include the Associated Press and Reuters.