Virginia Tech’s health communications expert Adrienne Ivory offers the following tips for fact checking online information related to COVID-19.

Be aware that a lot of social media posts about the COVID-19 virus are fake. Organizations ranging from Facebook and Google to UNICEF are working hard to combat a flood of misleading and inaccurate stories about the COVID-19 virus. Be skeptical of social media posts about the COVID-19 virus, even those that have the superficial look of news items, and check their sources and accuracy. If you are not sure whether a source of information can be trusted, check multiple news sources to see if the information is consistent across them.

Check information and instructions about the COVID-19 virus against official sources. False information about how to prevent and treat the COVID-19 virus is also appearing wildly in social media posts. Before following suggestions and instructions about the COVID-19 virus that you read on social media, check an official site like the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 site.

Pay attention to summary information in news stories, not just individual anecdotes. Interesting examples of people and events related to the COVID-19 virus may be true, but not typical. In addition to reading stories about individuals, pay attention to general information summarizing more broad populations (numbers of cases, rate of growth, hospitalization rates by age group) because it may be more relevant and representative.

Seek information that helps you be healthy and keep others healthy, not information that scares you. Much of the most “viral” news you encounter in social media posts about COVID-19 may be focused on frightening stories. While you should take the COVID-19 virus seriously, make use of information that tells you ways to prevent transmission rather than stories that only frighten you.

Do things that are healthy, not just things that everyone else is doing. Just because you see other people hoarding toiletries or buying masks online doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Follow recommendations from reliable sources rather than following what you see friends and family talking about doing online.

Be wary of posts that focus on politicization of the COVID-19 virus. False information about political figures and organizations has already been a big problem for years, and it is an issue with posts about the COVID-19 virus. While criticism and commentary regarding government actions related to the COVID-19 virus are acceptable, be skeptical of posts focusing on political information and check them against other sources.

[More: Find additional Virginia Tech expertise related to COVID-19 here.]

About Ivory
Adrienne Holz Ivory is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on the psychological and social influences of media on health-related attitudes and behaviors. More here.

Interview
To secure an interview with Ivory, contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at sandrea@vt.edu or 703-399-9494.