How not to succumb to disinformation about a pandemic
What makes the pandemic COVID-19 different from similar situations in the past is a significant role of social media which they play in our lives. Thanks to their virality, the important information (for example recommendations or restrictions in times of pandemic) can, in a short time, get to a large number of people, on the other hand, they can markedly contribute to the spread of false or untrue information.
The situation which we find ourselves in at the moment is difficult in many aspects. We cope with its health, economic, social or personal consequences, and we are forced to face numerous challenges. The specialists from the World Health Organisation state that currently we do not fight only with the pandemic, but also with the so-called infodemic (an excessive availability or satiety of information). A competence called media literacy helps us orientate in media information. To be media literate means to be able to select information, analyse and critically evaluate them, but also to carefully approach what information we share in the on-line environment.
The coronavirus is an artificially made biological weapon, it is spread through 5G network, it is dangerous only for the older people, or how to wash it down into the stomach with the help of warm water and salt where it becomes destroyed. That is only a fraction of the false and proofless reports which we have encountered since the outbreak of the pandemic in Slovakia.
How do we react to changes?
The large social changes were accompanied by disinformation from the earliest recorded time and the pandemic, which we currently experience, undoubtedly belongs to such changes. According to the specialists, the feeling of uncertainty, fear and the loosing of control over the situation are the accompaniments of these changes. In connection with the coronavirus, we can experience them even more intensely because they concern our health or health of our close relatives. The effort to reduce these feelings is our natural reaction. By actively searching for information and trying to find explanations we get the feeling that we understand the situation, we have it under control, we can predict its further course, and eventually, to reverse its consequences.
How does fake news attract us?
Disinformation, fake news, or conspiracies are generally defined by attractive and original style with the aim to create the feeling of sensation, feelings of fear or anxiety. Above all, they offer simple and comprehensible explanations of complicated phenomena, they find connections where they actually are not. For example, many times the conspiracy theories can arouse the feeling that the readers have looked behind the imaginary curtain, knowing more than others which gives them a sense of certain uniqueness. According to the research, this original style, working with our emotions causes that the fake news has the potential to spread as many as six times faster than true news and they have a much deeper impact. When these factors combine, it may not be really difficult to believe such news.
Several practical tips on how to increase one´s media literacy:
- Subscribe news from at least one reliable news service or respectable media.
- Read the whole articles, not just headlines.
- Notice who is the author of the information (Is this a conclusion of the research, a comment from an expert in the given field?). Is the author of the article even signed?
- Distinguish the genre of the report (is it news information, tabloid press sensation or a blog which can present only the author´s opinion?).
- Verify whether the news presents facts or tries to evoke emotions. (Serious news should impartially inform about what, where, why and how something happened. Fake news tries to evoke negative emotions in us.)
- When the news is supported by a photograph, verify whether the photograph wasn´t used in the past in a different context or edited in a graphic editor.
- Think over whether you want to spread the given information further (are you doing it to inform or will your report be a tool for starting a discussion or argument?).
- Keep away from hasty deductions (before making a conclusion, try to verify the information from various independent sources).
- If you have trouble with evaluating certain information, you can try to find out if any of the websites that are reviewing it has evaluated it as fake (FB page Hoaxes and frauds - the Slovak Police Force, the hoax.sk webpage, Digital Infospace Security Initiative platform or Lovci šarlatánov concerned with the medical hoaxes).
Kristína Blažeková, Institute for Research in Social Communication SAS