Living in the era of COVID-19 and fake news
Nowadays, we are living something we often saw in movies and thought would never happen to us: a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 has entered our reality as fast as a lightning and has woken up the fear monster locked within us. We have witnessed a lot of odd things happening these past few days, some of them absurd as well such as the toilet paper crisis, which is definitely at the top of our list. However, all this panic and misinformation is mostly spread out by rumours and lack of verified facts. Who to blame for this? Let’s go straight to the root of this issue.
Defining the problem
The spread of fake news has been a problem for a while now. A lot of things you read online, especially on social media (but sadly, not only there), may appear to be true, but are in fact not. To begin with, let’s see how can we define fake news.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, fake news are false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke. Basically, pieces of information are being manipulated and transformed into something that might appear plausible at a first sight. But, if you dig deeper, you are going to come to the realisation that facts are being made up or exaggerated with the only purpose of establishing a feeling of unsafety amongst the population.
But how can you tell if a piece of news is fake?
Verifying the source should always be the first step when exposing fake news. Understanding who the writer is, checking the organization behind this piece of information and searching anything that can attest that the page we are currently reading is trustworthy are monumental in this first stage.
After checking the source, you should take a closer look at the message and really understand its purpose. Is it there to inform you? Can you find this information some place else? Does it have any solid references?
Answering all of these questions and demystifying the source of the message should lead you to the right realisation: whether that piece of news is true or false.
Fake news in the era of COVID-19
Desperate times call for desperate measures. In times of pandemic, everything we read online should be checked just to make sure it’s truly true. Yet, a lot of so-called news websites take advantages of the people’s panic and credulity and spread false information online just to generate panic.
Let’s take a look at a very recent case from Romania, where an entire website was closed by the authorities for spreading fake news regarding this COVID-19 crisis. Long story short, stiridemoment.ro was shut down by the National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications for publishing an article claiming that all of the big hypermarkets in Romania were to close starting the 15th of March. After being meticulously analysed, it was discovered that this website published incomplete facts and statements, with very exaggerated titles, meant to panic the readers and to encourage them to act desperately. The title of the article `Starting Monday, Kaufland, Auchan, Metro, Carrefour and Lidl are to be closed` had nothing to do with its actual content, being nothing else than another clickbait attempt.
Lacking any track of identity and contact information, this website managed to generate a lot of traffic, shares on social media and panic amongst the Romanian people and the empty supermarket shelves are here to prove that.
Check, check, check
This is the greatest piece of advice we can give you. No matter if there’s a pandemic going on or not, check your sources, check your facts and always make sure you’re not spreading out information without making sure it’s true in the first place.
Till next time,