As the government continues to battle Covid-19, it has now started to act against another menace. Fake news has become a growing problem amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Research by Ofcom revealed over 50% of the UK’s online adults have come across some form of deceptive or false information related to the coronavirus. Some of these ‘fake news’ that has been doing the rounds include:
The report around drinking water to flush the infection has been received by 35% of the online population. Avoiding cold drinks and food was received by 24% of the readers. Over two-thirds of the people who have seen this information at some point revealed that they continue to see versions of this fake news daily.
A lot of people are finding it a challenge to discern what is right and what is false information about the coronavirus. For younger people who follow official sources less closely, this incident is more problematic. The UK government has set up a rapid response unit in its Cabinet Office that works to remove harmful content and fake news with the help of social media firms.
The unit revealed that they deal with at least ten occurrences daily. The sources of such misinformation can range from criminals running identity theft and phishing scams to fake ‘specialists’ providing wrong medical advice. Scammers have been spreading fake news, pretending to be a legitimate government body to hand out incorrect guidelines and information.
For instance, just hours after the government sent out notification requesting people to stay indoors, many fake versions of the texts started circulating on social media. One such version told recipients that they would be fined for breaking the lockdown rules.
The UK government re-launched the ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ campaign, which encourages people to think before sharing anything online. Receiving a WhatsApp text that says something like, ‘A friend who is a specialist at A&E Hospital’ does not mean that the information is correct even if they were sent by a family or friend. It’s safer to avoid sharing it with other people despite meaning to post with good intentions.
Websites such as Snopes and FullFact can be used to check the truthfulness of social media posts. These firms audit messages that are viral on the internet. It is essential to cut through all the fake news and information and believe only verifiable facts from reliable sources. The Conversation, a news website, has also published a guide that can be useful in weeding out fake news.
If some story claims a high certainty in arguments and advice as compared to other reports, then it is questionable at the least. Sorting out facts from fiction can be more robust in this crisis, especially at a time when all experts are not unanimous on their advice as well.
There have been requests to make sharing false and misleading information knowingly a punishable offence. Social Media platforms like Reddit, Google, and Facebook have also stated that they would be working with government agencies regarding the fake news issue. While sources like Twitter can help get information instantly, weeding out the conspiracy theories and misinformation is ultimately the reader’s responsibility.
Sorting out fact from fiction can be stricter with ever-changing media habits in the wake of Brexit. Even journalists have been tweeting unconfirmed rumours without fact-checking them. Despite the situation, journalists need to take a look at the way they are working and sharing information.
However, until that change takes place, it is crucial not to trust anything blindly and to fact-check every story before acting on it or even sharing it with others.