In the middle of a crisis, it is crucial to remain well-informed. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its fast-changing nature, has shone a light on this need.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is also revealing people's proclivities for confirmation bias and conspiracy theories. This pitfall is especially true online.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and websites like YouTube are incredible tools for the dissemination of information. But, as with any tool, they can be used to build or destroy. Thanks to these platforms, it is now easier than ever to spread misinformation and inaccuracies.
As journalists, we believe journalism provides tremendous value to society by supplying factual information. It's concerning to us, therefore, when we encounter videos and articles – not only on COVID-19 but on any topic – that are clearly false and can easily be debunked.
The proliferation of "fake news" during the 2016 U.S. presidential election further cemented this concern, and as we see posts alleging Bill Gates is behind the coronavirus or that the virus is amplified by 5G towers, we feel it again.
Amid this pandemic, it is especially important to ensure content shared online is factual. We encourage our readers to take time to become news literate; to make sure the information you are gather and disseminate online comes from credible sources.
Reliable information should be read widely from a variety of news organizations. Understand the biases of the organization providing you news, and your own biases as well. Verify what you read by consulting other credible news sources. Learn to distinguish factual reporting from opinions and punditry.
Being news literate is, in our opinion, a vital skill to have, but especially so in the face of a highly-contagious disease. Right now, the stakes of spreading misinformation are very high – the health, and in some cases, the lives of others are literally on the line.