Lessons learned from Italy: 5 tips to prevent the spread of CORONAVIRUS FAKE NEWS on social media

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Italy was one of the first countries largely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Here, we have learned very quickly that everyone can play a significant role against the spread of COVID-19. Accurate, accountable, and reliable information is critical to step up collective efforts to combat and prevent the transmission of the novel virus. We can all help in this fight by using our smartphones and social media accounts responsibly, making a difference in our community.

Misinformation* is growing on every social media platform. In Italy, during the first days of the outbreak, an increasing number of fake news about COVID-19 went viral on Whatsapp chats, Facebook groups, text messages, and Twitter. Many of our friends and family members are forwarding misleading information without malicious intent within their social circles. This phenomenon is creating panic and wrong assumptions on how to prevent and cure the disease.

We must break the chain of fake news. Based on my experience of what happened in Italy over the past three weeks, I wrote five tips to help prevent misinformation on social media also in other countries:

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte — Credits: @giuseppeconte_ufficiale/Instagram

1.Make sure that the source of information is reliable: search for similar news on Google and compare the results with trusted media outlets in your country, such as euronews.com, theguardian.com, nytimes.com, and reuters.com. It is an excellent approach to analyze various reliable newspapers to make sure that you have understood the different angles of the story. Always look up who is the author of the article;

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A message from the World Health Organization on Twitter

2. Check out regularly the websites of the institutions that work primarily in the field of public health, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the relevant public health entities in your country. These institutions provide accurate scientific information up-to-date and without any intermediaries;

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Empty Milan’s city center due to the coronavirus contagion — Credits: Mick De Paola/UNSPLASH

3. Avoid sharing screenshots of headlines with your contacts. Reading only the titles without having access to the full article does not allow you and your friends to have a full picture of the events reported;

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Shops are closed in Italy, besides pharmacies, newsstands, and supermarkets — Credits: Fortunato Serranò/ AGF

4. Think twice before forwarding a chain of text messages, audio recordings, and videos with no source as they are neither verifiable or accountable. If you share these messages, you could spread, without malicious intent, rumors, and misinformation that could create panic and harm your community. An excellent article on this phenomenon has been published by the New York Times on 16 March 2020;

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5. When you receive alleged fake news in Facebook/Whatsapp groups, kindly advise your contacts to verify the source where they got the information from in the first place. Get the news from trusted and accountable media outlets and maintain a conversation on social media by fact-checking every information, quoting reliable data and various sources of information.

It is a very challenging time for all of us. I believe that if we apply these tips to our daily digital communication, we will contribute to the adoption of healthy behaviors, critical to fighting the further spread of COVID-19.

*“Misinformation is generally used to refer to misleading information created or disseminated without manipulative or malicious intent.” Source: Journalism, fake news & disinformation: handbook for journalism education and training (pag. 7, UNESCO, 2018).

  • Maël Perdriolle, Content Creator at metodo.fr, translated this article in French -> read here
  • The original article was published by the author in Italian -> read here

Written by

Multimedia Journalist and Public Information Specialist at the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. The views expressed here are solely mine.

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