The covid-19 pandemic has left millions of people around the world confined to their homes, meaning now, more than ever, our main source of news has become what we read online.
But how can we separate fact from fiction?
What is covid-19?
Covid-19 is the disease caused by coronavirus, a new flu-like virus spreading around the world. The World Health Organization – the part of the United Nations that looks after the health of people worldwide – has declared it a pandemic, which is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time. Other examples of coronaviruses that have affected humans in the past include SARS and MERS.
Covid-19 has made its way to all of the world’s continents, with the worst affected areas being South-East Asia, the United States, and Europe. Global travel has come to a halt as more and more countries are deciding to close their borders and place their citizens on lockdown.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed the country on lockdown on 23 March and confirmed that these restrictions will remain in place until 13 April.
How can I spot fake news about covid-19?
Along with the spread of coronavirus has come a spread of fake news stories and viral hoaxes. On Thursday 26 March UK Parliament launched a fake news inquiry into false coronavirus stories.
Examples of these false stories and hoaxes appeared in the week before the UK went into lockdown, with people sharing false stories ranging from how we can beat the virus by continuously drinking hot drinks to news that the army was being called in to close London down. An image of military vehicles covered with English flags driving down a motorway in the capital went viral on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp. However, upon closer inspection it became clear that the photo hadn’t even been taken in the UK, as the vehicles pictured were driving on the right-hand side of the road. And doctors around the world have debunked the myth that hot drinks protect against covid-19.
So how can you tell if something you’ve been told is correct? Here are three things you should look out for:
1. Always question the source: Check to see if major news outlets or trusted organisations (e.g. Gov.uk, NHS, WHO, BBC) are telling the same story. Be especially wary of any information that pops up on your social media channels, or anything that’s forwarded to you via Whatsapp.
Check the timeline of the source. Have they recently joined the platform, do they have very little identifying information, do they mainly post other people’s material and do they follow very few others? These are all signs of what’s called “bot activity”. Robots, or “bots”, are machine-created accounts designed to disrupt and send out misinformation and fake news.
When viewing websites, always check the website address (that’s the text at the top of your browser window which looks like https://www.website.com/webpage), and make sure there’s nothing strange or suspicious about what it says. For example, the BBC News site would be https://www.bbc.co.uk/news and not, for example, https://www.fakenews-bbc.co.uk/news.
You can also download an extension for your browser, such as Chrome or Microsoft Edge, called NewsGuard. This extension adds a green, yellow or red symbol to the top of your browser window which helps show you how trustworthy the news source is. When you click on the symbol, it gives you even more information about its credibility and transparency.
On social media, it’s easy to spot which accounts for celebrities and journalists are real as they usually have a blue tick next to their name. For example, below is the account for ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston. He has a tick next to his name to show you it’s his genuine account, and you can also see how many followers he has – a low number may be a sign something’s not right. Be careful though, because celebrities and journalists are only human, and can be fooled by fake news too. So always double-check what they’re posting about!
2. Watch out for spelling or grammatical mistakes: Reputable journalists and organisations are less likely to make obvious mistakes in their statements, so look out for easy to spot errors.
Technology giants Google and Facebook have joined forces to combat coronavirus fraud and misinformation, however, hoaxes and fake news are still making their way onto these platforms. The UK government has taken to WhatsApp to set up a Covid-19 WhatsApp bot which enables the public to get answers to the most commonly-asked questions about coronavirus direct from the government, and access advice about staying at home, travelling, and myth-busting.
The BBC has a collection of resources to help children spot fake news and false information. The content explores the social, political and economic impact of news reporting, and the skills needed to analyse and critically evaluate information across a range of media.