April 2, 2020

You might feel scared or confused about what is actually happening with the coronavirus. You are probably reading a lot of conflicting information online. One thing we can all do right now to help each other is to stop spreading misinformation. It creates more panic and we are all stressed out enough as it is.

It’s also dangerous. If you share something that is misleading or inaccurate and others act on it, you could be putting their lives at risk.

So what can you do to help from home? First, don’t share something unless you know it’s true.

If you get emotional while reading or watching something, that is a good reason to take a minute and do some checking before sharing it. It takes 20 seconds to properly wash your hands. Take those same 20 seconds to stop and fact check something for yourself before tapping that share button. If you see someone commenting or sharing something that looks suspicious — say something. Ask them if they know if it’s accurate, and how do they know?

You might be thinking, “That sounds great, but how can you figure out what is real and what is fake?”

Watch this PSA video that Poynter’s MediaWise team put together for International Fact-Checking Day with the help of our all-star group of MediaWise Ambassadors — best-selling author and YouTuber John Green, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, YouTubers Ingrid Nilsen, Destin Sandlin (of Smarter Every Day) and Tyler Oakley, Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” host Peter Hamby and NBC News correspondent and “Stay Tuned” cohost Savannah Sellers, “PBS NewsHour Weekend” anchor and correspondent Hari Sreenivasan and PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs journalist Victoria Hodge.

Also featured in the video are MediaWise staffers Kristyn Wellesley, Alex Mahadevan, Heaven Taylor-Wynn, Alexa Volland, MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network students Angie Li and Josh Phillips, and me.

Teaching America how to think more like journalists and fact-checking with consuming content online is a core part of the MediaWise program. The video goes through the six key questions that journalists are taught on day one for how to report a story and verify information: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?

WHO: Think about: Who posted this? What motivations might they have? Check out their profile. Is there a blue checkmark there? That means they are a verified account on the platform. But even that doesn’t mean they are an authority on coronavirus. So be skeptical — why should you listen to them?

Best thing you can do is open up a new browser tab and search their name and see what you can find — are there any red flags in the search results? And look through a few pages of results, not just what you see first. That’s what journalists and fact-checkers do and it’s very effective.

WHAT: What evidence did they include to back it up? If there are no links or references to verified sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, or federal or local governments, just move on. All the reliable information right now is centralized and you should stick with info you know to be verified and reliable.

WHERE: Consider where the person is who posted it. The best information about what is happening in your community is going to come from local sources.

WHEN: This is super important right now — when was the information posted or updated? New info is coming in daily, sometimes hourly. Look for timestamps. Look for dates and times on everything you read. Remember that what might have been true when it was posted —even if it was just three days ago, might be outdated now.

WHY: This is everything. Think about why this person might be posting this content. Are they a trusted, well-informed official source or do they have negative motivations? Trying to get the info out before others and go viral? It’s important to put yourself in that person’s shoes to detect any potential bias.

HOW: How is this information being shared and what information are they sharing to back it up? If it’s shared on a platform that is not known as a place to get reliable health information, you should think twice about sharing it and taking it as fact.

We also are advising people that right now, they should be listening to:

  1. their doctors
  2. federal and local authorities (like the CDC)
  3. verified news sources like local news outlets

Not a random person on TikTok, not fellow moms on Facebook Groups, not your grandpa who got an email from his cousin. We are telling people of all ages to stay focused on outlets that are carefully deciding what to share with the public.

As I said in the video, and it’s a mantra we repeat often with MediaWise, “What you share is a very important decision right now. This is not a time to post anything you are unsure about.”

Please join us and share this video with your friends, family and networks and use the hashtag #FactCheckingDay and tell anyone who will listen to you to — stop spreading misinformation.

Katy Byron is the editor and program manager of Poynter’s MediaWise, a non-profit project teaching millions of Americans how to sort fact from fiction online. Reach her at kbyron@poynter.org.

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Katy Byron is the editor and program manager of Poynter’s MediaWise, a non-profit project teaching millions of Americans how to sort fact from fiction online.…
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