Tips for Coping with Fake Coronavirus News

By Beatriz Valdes  (El Toque)

Illustracion – Emilio Cruanas

HAVANA TIMES – The situation created by the new Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has encouraged social distancing in physical spaces, leading to a boom in Internet consumption. What’s the most immediate result? Cellphones don’t stop lighting up with notifications, much of which is fake news.

Analysis of the phenomenon linked to fake news reached its peak during the 2016 US presidential elections which resulted in Donald Trump’s election. Ever since then, debates about (mis)information on social media have spiraled.

The serious consequences of circulating fake news ranges from defamation to even swaying public opinion or raising social concerns. Unfortunately, we aren’t aware a lot of the time of just how much we contribute to its dissemination.

The wave of fake news about the new Coronavirus, which is going viral on social media, uses misleading information. Well circulated examples include the news that approximately 1500 Chinese people were cured in a single day with Recombinant Interferon Alfa-2b, which is produced in Cuba; totally fake information going around about “alternative” protection methods or even ways to diagnose the disease, as well as a flood of conspiracy theories.

In order to tackle these claims, specialized media and fact-checkers all over the world have pooled their resources during this crisis. Out of the many initiatives that exist today, a collaborative project coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network – made up of experts from at least 30 countries and whose work can be followed on social media with the hashtag #CoronaVirusFacts and #DatosCoronaVirus – particularly stands out.

However, even though these professionals are working at an amazing pace, it isn’t enough to tackle the overwhelming effect fake news have.

Up until now, there is no better fact-checker than ourselves, so it is essential that we know how to identify fake news when we see it.

Even though there is a lot of criteria to bear in mind, First Draft, a non-profit organization which offers tools to improve information standards online, breaks down the seven different types of fake news:

    -Fabricated content (completely false information).

    -Imposter content (genuine sources are impersonated).

    -Manipulated content (genuine text or images are manipulated to change their meaning).

    -False context (genuine information taken out of context).

    -Misleading content (some of the information is removed to distort the news).

    -False connection (headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content).

    -Satire or parody (content is ironic and doesn’t intend to cause harm but can fool people).

Keeping in mind what kind of “news” you might come across, makes it a lot easier to try and identify it.

Fake news items generally appeals to immediate emotions so that our first reaction is to share them. However, the mere fact that the news “asks” for us to believe it is reason enough for us to be suspicious. Quoting sources is a basic in journalism 101, so people can corroborate the information offered.

Therefore, take a few minutes to read the entire text, check who it is written by, ask the person who shared the information with you where it came from and you can even do a quick Google search about it.

Even nowadays when chain messages have soared with audio and videos that hold “valuable information”, it’s never too much to try and summarize them and look them up on the Internet by introducing the keywords you identify and then follow them with “Whatsapp”, “Messenger” or “Telegram” (depending on the app you received them on).

A super useful resource available to try and prevent fake news from spreading is the personal service that Google Discover offers, a list of subjects that Google compiles of interest to you in a feed that people can then click on to access the source pages.

Even though it has stirred quite a bit of controversy because of the profits Google clicks make, configuration of this tool not only allows you to block media or subjects that you’re not interested in, but the latest update also allows you to report inappropriate content.

There are also many free tools online that allow you to verify the images and videos we receive on different social media platforms.

If you received an image, which normally tells a story, you can do a “reverse search” which allows you to see if it has been published elsewhere.

In order to do this, save the image on your computer and upload it to Google Image or Google Reverse Image Search. Using this last tool – which also works as a plugin – you can access the original source of the image and see whether it has been manipulated, which is something you can also do with TinEye.

When it comes to video files, “InVid” is a resource you can download online which isn’t too hard to use, a plugin that is compatible with Chrome and Firefox which has a wide range of resources to identify manipulated videos.

If you want to go one step further, you can consult specialized “fact-checking” websites. The following are some of the ones I personally recommend, which are doing a particularly great job when it comes to COVID-19 coverage. A Spanish website which has its own verification tool, Maldito Bulo. It is an extension that can be downloaded for Chrome and Firefox, which warns users when they are surfing an unreliable website. It even disproves fake information in the search engine, but you have to become a member for this. Nevertheless, its coverage on the Coronavirus outbreak is free and you can access this via its website.

    NewsGuard: A US website that has its own team of professionals who use their own methods, assessing and certifying the credibility and transparency of news websites.

Similarly, there are many examples of projects in Latin America that are pushing this subject in the region and are carrying out a great deal of investigation when it comes to fake news during the Coronavirus pandemic:

    Chequeado: An Argentinian website specializing in verifying public discourse. Its mission includes promoting access to information and making information open to all.

    Animal Político: An independent publication from Mexico which has a specialized “Fact-checking” tab, El Sabueso.

    Efecto Cocuyo: An independent Venezuelan news website, which says that it “uses all of its platforms for the free exercise of journalism and access to information”.

    Salud con Lupa: A digital platform specializing in public health, whose work is undertaken by collaborative journalistic endeavors between Latin American professionals.

    El Surti: An independent Paraguayan newspaper which is focussed on universal information access, and is mostly visual.


Do you know of any other platform or tool that can help us to verify information during this pandemic? Please get in touch!

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If you are interested in following up-to-date information on the COVID-19 outbreak and its direct effects on Cuba, please check our coverage in collaboration between elTOQUE and Periodismo de Barrio “Coronavirus in Cuba: Information service”.

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One thought on “Tips for Coping with Fake Coronavirus News

  • Is there any scientific evidence that interferon Alpha-2b has cured a single person of Covid 19? Or is the promotion by the Cuban regime without basis?

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