Although COVID-19 poses a major health risk to individuals this doesn't stop fake news about the coronavirus from spreading. Disinformation about the coronavirus has actually become so prevalent that the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized it as a "infodemic" in February 2020.
With new information and research developing daily about this virus, use the SIFT method and resources outlined below to help you determine whether information that you read about the novel coronavirus is credible or not.
The SIFT Framework is a tool to help you remember the criteria used to evaluate the quality, credibility, and relevance of any source of information. Keep these principles in mind when evaluating information that you find online.
The idea of SIFT comes from Mike Caulfield and is reused here under a Creative Commons International 4.0 CC-BY license.
Let's say that you're scrolling through your Facebook news feed and you see a headline like the one linked below. The article claims that two Chinese scientists, who were escorted out of the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg in July 2019, were actually spies who shipped the coronavirus to a lab in Wuhan, China.
Before hitting the share or like button, consider if you've heard of the website or source of information before.
Investigate the source
Next, investigate the publication where you found the information. There are news sources known to produce fact-based articles, news sources that produce a mix of fact-based news and fake news, and news sources that are known only for publishing fake news. A quick Google search shows that the Zero Hedge site is not the most credible source of information and was actually banned from Twitter according to Bloomberg.com:
Find better coverage
Another option is to try to find other news coverage of the topic. If the information is legitimate, it will likely have been reported in a couple of mainstream news sources. If you can't find another news source, you should be skeptical of the information. You should also try and find other articles that have fact-checked the claim. For example, both Polifact and FactCheck.org concluded that there was no evidence behind the bioweapon claim and Eric Morrissette, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, has stated that there is "no factual basis" between the incident in the lab in Winnipeg and the coronavirus outbreak.
Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context
Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (i.e. a news story that has been reported in another online publication or an image that has been shared on Twitter). Try tracing the information back to the original source to recontextualize it.
The article used in our example above was republished from a website called GreatGameIndia.com, which took information from a July 2019 CBC news story and spun it to construct a conspiracy theory. According to the original CBC article, the two scientists were escorted from the lab because of an investigation that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) described as a "policy breach".
Officials are still trying to determine the exact cause of the COVID-19 outbreak, but there is no evidence to date to suggest that the virus originated as a bioweapon.