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COVID-19 fake news: how to spot it and what locals are doing to stop it

COVID-19 warnings
A sign at Portneuf Medical Center tells sick people to wear masks.

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - There's an entire Wikipedia page with 634 listed sources just about COVID-19 misinformation.

The spreading of false information was already an issue before the pandemic, but now it's become a big problem for public health.

“In all the planning that we’ve done for a pandemic of some sort, we didn’t really factor in the influence of social media and how much misinformation would be circulating on social media,” said Southeastern Idaho Public Health district director Maggie Mann.

Bogus research is being disguised as legitimate findings by physicians in order to influence public policy, and now social media giants are taking down the fake news.

Maygan Layson, who has her master's degree in public health education from Walden University, created the Pocatello CoVid 19 Community Support Facebook group back in March. She wanted to provide a place for locals to get accurate information and resources during the pandemic.

After a debunked conspiracy video was shared on her page, she spent an hour and a half researching the claims in the video and the source's reliability. She found no other research to support the information and took the post down.

“Because I wanted it to be accurate. I really really considered everything those doctors had to say. I researched it, I looked for scholarly articles that would support or negate their claims,” Layson said.

Public health officials wish more people would do their own research when they see coronavirus news.

“If you’re just seeing something that’s being shared by a friend on social media, or even something that sounds like a professional organization but maybe don’t have a ton of credibility, I would be very leery of buying into things that are being promoted by that type of organization,” Mann said.

Now more than ever, public health officials are having to fact check false information.

“People have sent us questions about things they’ve heard on the internet, and they’re very sincere in wondering what they’re hearing is accurate,” Mann said.

But with so much information--much of it changing because of how new COVID-19 is--it's hard for people to weed through the news.

Mann suggests reading and watching media with a critical eye, like Layson.

“You research those (claims), you don’t just take it on their account. You go find the scholarly articles that they’re saying this research is based on,” Layson said.

Here are some tips to be more critical in your news consumption:

  1. Check the source. You can check whether a source is legitimate by searching fact-checking sites. Snopes.com, an independent fact-checker, offers a list of known fake news websites. You can view that here.
  2. Check the bias. Every source has a political leaning, it's human nature. Take information from far left- or right-leaning sources with a grain of salt. You can view major news outlet's political bias by clicking here.
  3. Check your bias. Confirmation bias is when people accept information that only supports their beliefs or prior knowledge. Paying attention to your own bias when consuming news can help you be more critical of information that you might be susceptible to believing--or discounting.
  4. Read past the headline. They can be misleading or sensational to get people to click on articles. While you're reading the actual article, check the author and the date. Sometimes old news can be proven inaccurate but articles still float around. Sometimes authors are actually political pundits writing as guest columnists. Remember there's a difference between news and opinion articles. Usually, legitimate media outlets distinguish between news and opinion pieces.
  5. Do your own research. Check if other media outlets are reporting the same thing. Search on Google Scholar for scientific studies. Click the links in the article to check the author's sources.
Coronavirus Coverage / Idaho / Local News / Pocatello / Top Stories
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Emma Iannacone

Emma is a reporter for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

Comments

2 Comments

  1. “Read past the headline.”
    Probably THE most important thing! Headlines (Lead-ins, on ‘News’ feeds) are crafted ONLY to grab the reader’s attention. As the average American’s attention SPAN has devolved to the level of a one-year-old’s, or maybe a puppy, they tend to formulate what they WANT the following article to say, according to THEIR bias, and then pass THAT on to any fool stupid enough to listen.
    News media itself–while playing a poor second-fiddle to ‘Social Media’–already has ENOUGH prejudice (withOUT the legions of tattlers) without pseudointellectuals ADDING to that!
    Facebook, Twitter, etc. are simply the on-line version of the High School locker room rumors, just with a wider audience!

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