COVID-19 – How to deal with scaremongering and disinformation

  • Awareness
  • 30/03/2020
  • German Safer Internet Centre

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.

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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Estonian Safer Internet Centre: COVID-19 resources

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Spanish Safer Internet Centre: COVID-19 resources

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German Safer Internet Centre: COVID-19 resources

The German Safer Internet Centre has set up a page with information (in German) for parents and teachers on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit the page on: https://www.klicksafe.de/corona/

Below you can find an outline of the articles and resources published on the page organised by topic.

Industry stakeholders are working together to fight COVID-19 misinformation

As the World Health Organization (WHO) has described it, "the COVID-19 outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic' – an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it."

COVID-19 – using tech in a positive way

We are hearing a lot about how technology can be misused and abused, and about how criminals are exploiting the current situation with an increase in scams and similar. It's important to remember, however, the many positive ways in which technology is connecting people, and providing hope, education and entertainment for the millions who are now forced to stay at home.

Staying safe online during the coronavirus pandemic

We are in unprecedented times. As schools close and people are confined to their homes due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we are using the internet and online services more now than perhaps ever before. Being online is providing a lifeline for everyone in society from the young to the old, learners and workers, and the vulnerable, curious and those seeking an escape from boredom. This is probably, therefore, a good time to remind ourselves of a few key points to keep safe online.