Coronavirus: the dangers of fake news

During this pandemic, it has been easy to pick up our phones, scrolling and double-tapping for hours on end. While this may appear harmless, excessive time spent on social media — such as Facebook and Instagram — can put us at a higher risk of absorbing fake news, including false assumptions surrounding the coronavirus.

Fake news can be seen as a virus itself, dangerously infecting social media pages, jumping from profile to profile through shares and likes. It seems inevitable for fake news to flourish in this current age of uncertainty, as people desperately try to seek forms of safety and explanations for virus transmission. Unfortunately, virus transmission is much more complicated. Social media has been dangerously contaminated with incorrect information, including life-threatening acts that claim to be ‘preventative measures’ such as injecting disinfectant.

While we may laugh at Donald Trump’s attempt at medical advisory, modern society must understand the serious risks of distributing fake news. While some myths are clearly ridiculous, many individuals manage to fabricate ‘scientific credibility’ behind these claims, creating a threat to those who lack background knowledge on virus transmission or are unaware of the circulation of fake news. Firstly, we must discuss a few popular myths surrounding COVID-19, in order to prevent further spread.

Fake news can be seen as a virus itself

The idea that vodka can be used as a sanitising substance is believed by up to a quarter of the British population; to be clear, that’s around 16.66 million people. While some may recognise this is incorrect due to its alcohol percentage, to a large amount of the population this would make ‘scientific’ sense. Due to the shortage of hand sanitisers, particularity in the first few weeks of our lockdown, homemade alternatives were rapidly rising in popularity. Using vodka as a homemade alternative does not kill the virus on hands or surfaces, consequently, believing this fake news could increase the spread of the virus, raising the ‘R rate’.

Other myths may be more socially destructive, such as fake news suggesting the virus originated in a Chinese lab, creating racial discrimination against Chinese citizens within the UK. The false claim that Chinese people are ‘bioterrorists’ has fashioned heightened tension within communities. Many incidents of racist hate crimes have been reported, pointing the blame at Chinese citizens in the UK for the virus. This is an incredibly sad yet realistic effect of fake news in communities, leading Chinese minorities to feel unsafe and vulnerable to these attacks. Fake news can sometimes be humorous when it’s widely known to be nonsense, but when damaging false information gets into the wrong hands, it can be used as an excuse for an aggressive outlet on minority groups in communities. This must be prevented with increased education on the detection of fake news.

The false claim that Chinese people are ‘bioterrorists’ has fashioned heightened tension within communities

When it comes to preventing fake news, it should be the responsibility of social media admins to monitor and delete any circulating articles with dangerous claims. However, it is virtually impossible to stop individuals from accessing any source of incorrect information. While journalists should make sure their information is accurate and clear, occasionally avaricious ‘journalists’ will use misleading headlines or incorrect facts to gain wider attention from readers. Therefore, the responsibility falls into our hands to recognise and report fake news and prevent its distribution.

Start with looking for bias — if the article strongly sides with one judgement, Google the topic and educate yourself on both sides of the argument before forming your own opinion.

Check the date! Just like food, news can expire and become inaccurate as more information is discovered. Crucially, we must always check the credentials of the author and media website we are using. This can be done with a quick Google search to find out if the source and author are reliable, and if they are not, be aware of inaccuracies within their writing and avoid using it to form a judgement.

Lastly, those who are aware of the dangers of fake news must educate others who may be naïve to its effects. Fake news is an unavoidable by-product of social networking; therefore we must continue to raise awareness and educate others on how to spot it.

By Felicity Callow

Image: by The Public Domain Review via Flickr

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