Special Feature on COVID-19: the Infodemic

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Adapted in English by Valérie Harnois

As part of a series of SCOOP! on COVID-19, today we address the infodemic. The infodemic is this overabundance of information, credible or not, that makes it difficult for anyone to get accurate information. Medical misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumours on governmental measures, doctored pictures and videos, scams, and fraudulent offers, the false information about COVID-19 spreads faster than the actual virus. SCOOP! explains, in this video, how to ensure you are not fed false information in your quest for truth.

Did you Say Infodemic? 

This new portmanteau word, created by combining the words « information » and « epidemic », describes the unpreceded phenomenon which is this tsunami of information of all sorts, on the web, about COVID-19.

« Repeatedly, there are new reports of scams relating to the coronavirus outbreak, from fake product ads and phishing attacks, to door-to-door solicitations, bogus fundraising and fraudulent phone campaigns. That’s why Canadians need to be extra vigilant during these stressful times. »

Source: CPA News, March 23, 2020

Telling facts from fiction in this sea of information can be quite difficult. People need to be reassured, to know the answers, and to have the impression that they are in control. In times of crisis, it is easy to let your worries take over reason. This is why there is a significant amount of content, with shady intents, that can lead to cognitive bias, modifying your critical judgment along the way. Some quacks take advantage of this situation to influence people and rally them to their cause.

Doubt or Trust? 

Doubt or trust? That is the question you should be asking yourself every time you see a new piece of information on your favourite network. The TikTok, Snapchat and Twitch of this world are places where misinformation grows freely and is breeding ground for the sharing of fake news among teenagers. For older people, Facebook is still the platform where most fake news are circulated.

« On average, American Facebook users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as those aged between 18 and 29, researchers from NYU and Princeton found in the study, which also concluded sharing such false content was “a relatively rare activity”. »

Source: The Guardian January 10, 2019

It is essential, and sometimes a question of life or death, that in the context of a crisis such as the one we are going through at the moment, to choose credible sources of information when looking for facts. Such credible sources include: CBC, The National Post, The World Health Organisation, The Globe and Mail, École Branchée. To add to these reliable sources of information, some Web specialists have put in place platforms where they investigate information to tell facts from fiction. Snopes, FactCheck, FullFact, Associated Press Fact check, and HoaxEye, are dedicated to the validation of information spread through various media. They rectify the information and give accurate explanations about various topics, including COVID-19. The Pharmafist also has a special section dedicated to the facts surrounding COVID-19 and various health-related speculations.

You too can validate the information you see in three simple steps :

1- Verify the statement

You can copy important quotes of the article in Google to see if other media are reporting it the same way. If you see spelling mistakes, you can doubt the credibility of the information you are reading. Of course, you need to read beyond the title to understand the content. Also look at the date of publication. Old publications often come back in the news feed as if they were new. Check if the arguments are based on the writer’s point of view or if they are supported by outside experts. 

2- Verify the source 

You can type the source’s name in Wikipedia. If the person is credible, chances are their name will show up in a Wikipedia search. Note the web address. For example, CBC.ca is reliable, but CBC.co, not so much. You can also enter the URL in the Décodex created by the newspaper Le Monde to verify if it is trustworthy. You must also be wary of sponsored content. If someone is being paid to share the information, it is not as credible.

3- Verify the image 

You can verify the authenticity of an image by using the reverse lookup of Google Image. You will be able to see if the image was used elsewhere. Check also the caption. A credible source will give credit to the author of the image. Sites such as Tineye.com or the Citizen Evidence Lab from  Amnisty International can also help to retrace the origin of videos. Your common sense, sound judgment, and observational skills can also be uses to identify if an image has been altered with software such as Photoshop.

Going Further 

To help you in your digital education, many sources are available. For instance, DoubtIt.ca, 30secondes.org, BreakTheFake.ca, and NewsWise.ca will provide you with the necessary tools to help you fight fake news. You will also be able to test your skills in telling apart truth from fake through the different games.  

Meanwhile, to avoid spreading fake news, it would be wise to keep in mind this simple advice from Ève Beaudin (Agence Science-Presse), which is good for everyone, old and young : « Wash your hands for 20 seconds » and « take 30 seconds to verify your source ».

Quiz Time! 

Click here to have access to a quiz created using the Quizziz platform. Click on the green button « Jouer »  to play since no adult is there to start the game. You will have all the time you need to answer the questions.

Teachers! Click on this link to access the quiz. Then click on « Play Live ». A window will open to select the parameters you want. Then, click on « Jeu d’hôte » and invite students to play on joinmyquiz.com. You will need to give them the code provided to you on the screen. When everyone is ready, click on « Début ».

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