4 steps to detect fake news during the Covid-19 crisis

While it is important to stay updated on the Covid-19 crisis, it is equally important to ensure your information is coming from the right sources. (Rawpixel pic)

PETALING JAYA: With the Covid-19 crisis restricting the movement of Malaysians all across the country, everyone is clinging tightly to their phones to keep updated with the latest news.

So much is being passed around on Facebook and WhatsApp groups, that it is sometimes tough to keep track on what’s really going on outside your home.

It certainly doesn’t help that many unscrupulous people are adding to the confusion by throwing into circulation misleading or blatantly false stories.

Whether these stories are true or not might be hard to discern for some, and it’s easy for people to be fooled in their current state of desperation.

So how can you protect yourself from falling for fake news? Here is a list of precautions to take before you believe wholesale everything you read online:

1. Use your common sense

Just because your aunt heard it from the cousin of a friend of her hairdresser does not make it true.

Is something too good to be true? Is it outlandish? If so, it’s probably not true.

Everyone is blessed with intelligence and some logical skill. It pays to use it. No, eating a certain fruit will not protect you from Covid-19. Drinking alcohol will also not sanitise your gut.

Buzzwords are common in social media hoaxes that get passed around on WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook, with entire sentences capitalised as though to emphasise just how important the story is.

Rule of thumb: The more capitalised words and exclamation marks there are, the higher the likelihood that the information is fake.

Doubly so if the message ends with a plea to share it.

With information literally at your fingertips, it pays to verify details that could potentially be parts of a hoax. (Rawpixel pic)

2. Use hoax-busting websites to check out a story’s authenticity

Just as the Internet can be used to deceive people, it can also be used to put a stop to deception.

Hoax-busting websites are set up by well-meaning individuals or groups with the intention of keeping track on the latest hoaxes spreading online. They conduct research into these hoaxes to see how many kernels of truth are there in them.

Visiting them saves you the trouble of having to do your own research into possible hoaxes. The next time your family’s WhatsApp group is inundated with claims that hairdryers can save you from Covid-19 infection, go online and visit:

One of the oldest hoax-busters out there, they meticulously record any ongoing hoax flying around in cyberspace, trace its origin and check the facts.

Established by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to counter misinformation, this website shoots down fake news circulating on social media.

Set up by the reputed international news agency, Agence France-Presse, Factcheck keeps tabs on what’s going viral and cross-references other legitimate news sites to investigate hoaxes.

3. Verify with legitimate news websites

Always treat everything you read online with a healthy amount of scepticism. If something is big enough to be talked about in the news, it will be talked about in the news.

In case you’re unsure of something, check reliable news websites for the latest updates and information.

BBC, Reuters and AFP are examples of reliable international news websites that can be depended on. Also, take into consideration any bias that may be included in a news article.

An article from a blog that frequently spews wild conspiracy theories is not to be treated equally as an article found in The Washington Post.

Fake news is often designed to appear appealing to potential readers. It feeds on your biases and preconceived notions, so just because you like what a story is telling you doesn’t mean it’s true.

If you are uncertain about anything you hear or read online, check with someone with actual medical expertise and credentials like a doctor. (Rawpixel pic)

4. Check the legitimacy of your source

If you are being bombarded with links to articles on Covid-19, be sure that the links are leading to legitimate news or health organisations rather than a sketchy website.

Anyone can set up a website, including those with no credentials who have a delusional belief of their medical expertise.

Do some research on the publishers. Are they an actual medical doctor? Or are they someone who lives and breathes essential oils and healing crystals? The web address also can act as a tell-tale sign of whether a website is sketchy or not.

Typically, URLs end in extensions like “.com” or “.my”, so if you see something different, think twice about believing anything that will be said.

If you are given information directly by another person, take into consideration their personality and expertise in their field. Are they a medical doctor who knows how viruses work? Or are they someone who dropped out of college?

Are they honest and reasonable people? Or are they gullible enough to fall for every gimmick and fad that comes their way?

In a time of crisis like this, fake news will only give people either false hope or worry them even further.

Such irresponsible lies have to be nipped in the bud, so if you see fake news circulating through your social media circles, step up and do your part by debunking it if it’s indeed a hoax.

Fake news only increases its grip on people’s minds if it continues to spread unchallenged.