Fake news is an old phenomenon, but it has gained increasing attention especially during and after the 2016 US presidential elections. In fact, it’s become so popular that it was designated by Collins Dictionary “the Word of the Year for 2017”, following what the dictionary called its “ubiquitous presence” over the past 12 months. However, the term has just won legitimacy in the past few years, but the phenomenon has probably existed since ever and is most of the time part of a larger story – the conspiracy theories. For instance, the 14th century outbreak of bubonic plague was the center of a conspiracy theory targeting Jewish people, who were blamed for the starting and spreading the Black Death. In 1890, The New York Herald claimed that the electric light was somehow responsible for a global influenza outbreak. In 1919, rumours spread that the German pharmaceutical company Bayer had tainted its aspirin tablets with the so-called Spanish flu.
So what changed in the meantime and why is the Coronavirus fake news so important
The big, and possibly the only difference now is that the Coronavirus pandemic is coming in the age of the internet, when it’s not only easier for people to do bad research and spread their results, but it’s also possible for them to make material look authoritative. So if in the past fake news was more a matter of gossip, it has now become dangerous misinformation that may lead or that probably led to the death of thousands of people. Therefore, it’s important to be able to distinguish between what constitutes reliable information and the fake news, to spot the deception and prevent its spreading, to see where the power of fake news comes from.
We put together a list of the experts recommendations on how to spot fake news:
Check the source
First and foremost, make sure the source is reliable. Make sure that the article comes from a famous publication or official authorities websites or maybe bloggers or vloggers that you are already familiar with and trust. Even if you run across the story on a good friend’s Facebook page, for instance, you shouldn’t believe it is authoritative from the start. Also, pay attention to the domain: if it contains spelling errors or the extension looks like “.infonet” or “.offer,” rather than .com, dig deeper, there might be something phishy there.
Develop a Critical Mindset
Mindtools.com states that one of the main reasons fake news is such a big issue is that it is often believable, so it’s easy to get caught out. Much fake news is also written to create “shock value,” that is, a strong instinctive reaction such as fear or anger. This means it’s essential that you keep your emotional response to such stories in check. Instead, approach what you see and hear rationally and critically .
Ask yourself, “Why has this story been written? Is it to persuade me of a certain viewpoint? Is it selling me a particular product? Or is it trying to get me to click through to another website?”
Check you biases
We know it’s not that easy, but it’s of utmost importance. Scientists have investigated and came up with the conclusion that people are prone to believe fake news or conspiracy theories, in general, because they appeal to what experts called proportionality bias: the assumption that big events have big causes. And since the Coronavirus pandemic shook the entire world, it has also been the perfect field for proliferous inaccurate, misleading materials.
We know you’re busy, and some of this debunking takes time, but you do it for your own and your family’s safety and it’s all worth it, right?
Here’s also a short video from BBC, with more tips and tricks.