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Apr 16 2020 - 06:12 PM
Disinformation (Part 1)

The term disinformation, according to Merriam-Webster first known to have been used in 1939, has gained wide currency in the age of COVID-19. The response to the outbreak, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Situation Report - 13 on February 2, 2020, has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ (surfeit of information) – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources when they need them. This is the first blog in a series on Disinformation from your trusted librarians at Teachers College Gottesman Libraries.

Fabricando fake news para el Capital by Jorge Barron Fernández. Credit Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

There is no shortage of unverified information about coronavirus accessible online. It ranges from questionable health tips to speculation about government plans. Coronavirus: how bad information goes viral is a March 22, 2020 video from the BBC, the world’s leading public service broadcaster, that traces the origin of a hugely popular online post and how it mutated. The video was created by Marianna Spring from BBC trending (a blog “reporting on what's being shared and asking why it matters”) and Olga Robinson from BBC Monitoring (an online collection of the BBC’s “insights and reports from broadcast, press and social media sources from over 150 countries and 100 languages”). A March 27, 2020 blog from BBC Trending offers seven hugely helpful steps that you can follow to stop Corona disinformation from going viral:

  1. STOP AND THINK. Avoid the temptation to quickly forward to friends and family every fresh bit of advice you receive. Instead, pause and check it out further.
  2. CHECK YOUR SOURCE. Ask some basic questions. Where does the information come from? Personal sources (e.g., your neighbor’s cousin’s roommate) are a big red flag. Among the most reliable information sources are public health bodies (e.g. the World Health Organization WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC in the US, and the UK’s National Health Service NHS).
  3. COULD IT BE A FAKE? If you can't easily find the source information online, it’s possible that it’s a hoax.
  4. UNSURE WHETHER IT’S TRUE? DON’T SHARE. You might be doing more harm than good.
  5. CHECK EACH FACT, INDIVIDUALLY. Sometimes, a long list can be a mix of accurate and inaccurate advice.
  6. BEWARE EMOTIONAL POSTS. That is the content most likely to go viral.
  7. THINK ABOUT BIASES. It’s when we’re agreeing with something that we’re most vulnerable.

If you have seen doubtful or misleading information on social media, you may share it via an email to Marianna Spring at