COVID-19 – How to deal with scaremongering and disinformation

Is Ibuprofen a potential risk for COVID-19 patients? Will grocery stores shut down? Will the internet be able to keep on functioning? Rumours linked to the newly discovered coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are spreading faster than the virus itself. The German Awareness Centre klicksafe offers some useful tips to find your way through the chaos.

Date 2020-03-30 Author German Safer Internet Centre Section awareness

Poster by klicksafe on how to deal with scaremongering and fake news online

Right now, no other topic is covered as extensively in the media as the spread of COVID-19 and possible measures to keep it under control. The feeling of insecurity contributes to the rapid spread of misinformation and rumours, especially via social media.

Google, Facebook and YouTube are therefore trying to intensify their measures against the dissemination of fake news. For instance, Google and YouTube display a warning, further information and links to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and similar institutions as a response to search queries for "coronavirus" or "COVID-19". Facebook is trying to hide fake news concerning COVID-19 with the help of an algorithm and is cooperating closely with health authorities and fact-checking-platforms.

However, "closed groups" on social media services like Facebook and WhatsApp remain problematic. Rumours and false information spread rapidly via private groups and group chats, the original source of the content becomes untraceable (also referred to as "dark social" or "dark traffic"). Fake news spread exceptionally well when they contain phrases like "Doctors discover…", "Medical Centre XXX issues warning", "Research indicates…" to add a special kind of integrity or seriousness.

So: what to do about this information overload? Where can I find reliable information? How can I check whether a rumour is true or false? Below are a few tips.

Get informed on official pages

Daily updated information concerning COVID-19 can be found in particular on the following websites:

Check the facts

Everyone should be aware that information and news – especially those spread via social media – should be examined critically for truthfulness. But you're not in this alone: many initiatives work day and night to find out if information concerning COVID-19 is "fact" or "fake".

Don't rush to share information

Fake news are spreading successfully mainly because they get shared via social media and are therefore able to reach a wide population in a short time. To counteract this, it's helpful to break the transmission chain – just like with the virus. Does the information come from a reliable source? When in doubt: don't share it!

Inform others about fake news

In many cases the information we see on social media services was shared by people we know. It can make us feel uncomfortable when we're questioning openly information or news articles shared by our close friends and family. However, in case you found out that the information is not true, it is advisable to kindly point that out and inform about fake news.

Don't forget about information for children

Children and young people in particular require information tailored to their needs. The Thematic Network POSCON offers a search function for Positive Online Content for children, such as news websites, for different European countries.

Useful links (in German)

General information on fake news

Reliable information on COVID-19

Fact checking and counter speech

Find out more information about the work of the German Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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