Given the infodemic phenomenon or the deluge of fake news that comes my way each day, I developed ways to cope during this pandemic. To discern fact from fake news about the pandemic, I outlined ways to separate fact from fiction in what I hear and read.
Here are 10 guidelines that I have found helpful in removing doubts in my mind when dealing with an unprecedented volume of fake information online.
Triangulate to counter the infodemic
One of the effective ways to discern facts from fake news is to compare at least three sources of information, whether from social media or information overheard from conversations about a controversial topic that we hear nowadays. If at least two sources of information coincide, chances are, it may be true. If you are still in doubt, get more sources of information.
Examine the source of information
When I read the news, I go straight to the source of information. For example, an Indian news agency reported that scientists discovered that COVID-19 is airborne and stars in the air for 60 minutes. I searched for the actual document to verify. I learned that Lancet, a popular scientific journal, published the report.
Upon closer scrutiny, I came to know that six scientists reviewed published literature on COVID-19 and concluded that based on the reports, their expert judgment gave them convincing evidence that the virus could not be transmitted by fomites or infectious droplets but by COVID-19 being airborne. This view appears to be sound after reading that report; I have read in the news that in Sri Lanka, a new strain of the virus stays in the air for one hour and spreads fast. Neelika Malavige, the head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Sciences of the Sri Jayawardenapura University, the new variant can remain airborne for nearly an hour.
This mode of transmission may be why even if a person is not having a conversation with someone, i.e., face-to-face, another person may inhale the expelled virus in the air when someone infected talks or coughs.
Always look for corroborating evidence
Information about the pandemic can be relied upon if there is evidence to support it. If the author has convincing evidence to show the claim, the information supplied will be more believable. Discern fact from fiction by always looking for supporting evidence.
Delay decision to believe or not if the information is vague
It will help if you have to wait it out to have more information before believing something doubtful. Postponing your decision to have a vaccine or not will provide you with better options over time.
Conduct diligent search
If you find the information inadequate, search more references about the topic on reliable sites. Here are tips on how to evaluate websites with reliable sources of information.
Use common sense
Some controversial issues are just too good to be true. Just use common sense if the information deserves any attention. If it is absurd, by all means, ignore the report.
Don’t be too emotional about what you have read or heard, as it will cloud your good judgment. Look at the issue more objectively and discern fact from fiction.
Use your background knowledge
Having had taken pre-medicine courses helped me filter out the absurd information about the virus. Someone posted that antibiotics can kill the virus. From what I have learned, antibiotics are aimed towards the control of bacteria, not viruses.
Draw from previous experiences
Experience teaches excellent lessons. The H1N1 or Spanish flu pandemic in 2018 that killed millions of people is a phenomenon that demonstrates that viruses can cause worldwide fatalities. Dismiss or take information with a grain of salt when faced with doomsday predictions. The pandemic occurs periodically.
Use probability of occurrence
Is an event highly likely based on your understanding of that event? If the probability is small, then there is no cause for worry. But if your intuition tells you that going to a place can be dangerous, better listen as intuition can be an inner warning that you cannot discount. True intuition, however, has its qualities, as this article suggests.
The infodemic is a phenomenon made possible partly because of the ease anyone can post on social media. Everyone can disseminate information that may affect the lives of other people.
It just makes sense that we employ ways to discern fact from fake news. The guidelines mentioned in this article can help ease the tension due to questionable information due to lack of knowledge, biases, and plain gullibility to something that appeals to one’s senses.
© P. A. Regoniel 2 May 2021