Coronavirus: How to navigate your way through fake news

As the UK becomes gripped by the Coronavirus outbreak and the amount of media coverage increases, so too has the level of misinformation that is currently being spread about the disease. Account executive and ex-journalist Hannah Mitchell gives us advice on how to navigate through this misinformation and recognise sensationalised and fake news.


Spotting fake news

You’ve probably been sent a message recently telling you to make sure you forward it on to all your contacts, or maybe you’ve heard the army will be locking down cities. You might even have spotted tweets from ‘experts’ saying the virus only affects certain people. It is a minefield out there right now when it comes to what is real and what is fake, but it is important you know how to spot which is which.

It can be a challenge to decipher the facts from the fiction in this world of social media, where everybody has become an expert, but as a former journalist I know the importance of making sure a claim is 100 per cent accurate before it is published.

In a bid to share some knowledge during these uncertain times, here are my top tips on how to decipher all the conflicting and confusing messages out there.

Rule one: Don’t believe everything you read

It is easy to read tweets and articles online and soak them all up as facts. After all, if it has been published online it must be true, right? Wrong. Anybody can publish their thoughts online now and there are a lot of fake news sites out there that thrive off public uncertainty.

Additionally, social media has become awash with people making all sorts of claims. It is important to become a cynic when you read news online. Question everything and believe nothing until you have been able to confirm it elsewhere.

Rule two: Always look for at least two articles which agree

When you read an article online, try to find another that has the same information. A rogue article making a claim that hasn’t been picked up elsewhere is usually a warning sign that it is fake news.

Rule three: Don’t fall for chains

An alarming amount of threads and chains have started to be spread over the last few weeks. These can be posts which are forwarded through WhatsApp, email or social media.

They usually claim to have been shared by an expert or someone with good knowledge about the subject, but importantly, it is never shared from a direct source. If you don’t know the doctor or expert who has supplied the information, then don’t believe it. A friend of a friend’s brother’s uncle who knows a scientist working on the virus is probably not where you want to get your information from.

Stick to official sources – for example, the World Health Organization’s official page.

Rule four: Check who has been named as a source

If you are reading an article from a national or well-known news outlet, check where it has got its information from. If a source is unnamed or it has come from social media then be wary. If it has come from an official source then it will most likely be a legitimate article.

Rule five: Think about people’s motives

Question why people might be saying certain things. Do they have an agenda? Or a political stance they want to reinforce? Make sure you get your news from a number of different outlets with different agendas so it is balanced.

Rule six: Reverse image search

Several pictures have started appearing on social media of soldiers on the streets, doctors on the frontline or patients in hospital – but how do you know that the pictures are real?

A quick and easy check is to find out who took the photo. Did the person sharing the image take the photo? Were they even there? Or has it just been shared online and then passed on by people who believe its authenticity?

Use reverse image tools online to find out if the picture has been used before. A quick reverse image search can reveal the first time the image was used and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with what you think it does.

Rule seven: Don’t underestimate the importance of local news in times of uncertainty

Don’t underestimate the importance of local news. These reporters are the ones speaking to real people, they are the ones who are on the ground finding out the facts and they are the ones who are finding the real-life stories, which often get shared by other much larger outlets. Don’t forget about your local newspaper – it is more important now than ever before.

Rule eight: Don’t panic or become overwhelmed

As a general rule, make sure you start reading your news from multiple different outlets, don’t share stories unless you are 100 per cent certain of their accuracy and don’t trust sources you have never heard of.

The reality of a situation is often never as bad as the media portrays it to be, so sifting through sensationalised or false stories will help you to remain calm and logical during difficult times.

The Cartwright Communications team is still – and will remain – open for business.  Get in touch with us today.

By Hannah Mitchell

Hannah joins the team as a senior qualified journalist and is used to working at a fast pace in a busy newsroom. She brings with her experience in writing compelling copy and knows exactly how to produce strong local and national coverage. Hannah supports clients across multiple sectors from home interiors and construction through to retail.