Social Media Has Seen A Rise In Misinformation During COVID-19. How Can You Learn To Spot It?

Jul 20, 2020

The global pandemic has fueled a rise in misinformation circulating on social media.

Since the early days of COVID-19, Facebook and other platforms have been full of memes and posts challenging testing results and even alluding that the whole virus story is a conspiracy.

Peter Adams is with the News Literacy Project. They’ve created tools for students to evaluate news stories.

He says the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic, where new data is being released constantly, has created an atmosphere where misinformation can easily spread.

Adams said countless people have been duped -- or watch as their friends and family are duped -- by conspiracy theories on their feed. And for those who want to wade into comments and dispute claims -- he said it’s important to note that misinformation isn't just something meant to reinforce someone’s beliefs but to exploit those beliefs.

“People around you falling for misinformation vote in your communities, they vote in statewide and national elections, they can have an effect on you whether you get fooled or not,” said Adams. “So, everyone should care.”

He says it’s not just misinformation about the pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 Election.

He says it can spread quickly in part because people often trust friends more than they trust the media or government.

“Your friends and family actually view you, because you're their friend because you're their family member, as a sort of credible source,” he said. “And, you know, you really want to protect their interests and not share things that are false.”

Adams said it doesn’t help matters that elected officials, like the president, have spread misinformation regarding the pandemic.

Adams says people should learn to separate scrolling from intentional news consumption.

And it’s time to break the habit of thinking that just because something looks well-produced, it’s credible. With anything, he said, it’s smart to slow down and check to see if claims are backed up by evidence and if other reputable outlets are saying the same thing.

Adams says even though younger people may be on different platforms, like TikTok, the hallmarks of misinformation -- false contrasts and evidence-free claims -- are the same.