COVID-19 has permeated every facet of the news cycle, and sometimes it seems like there’s a new update on the novel virus every hour. News spreads more quickly than ever now, thanks to social media and messaging apps. However, misleading or sensationalized information has also started circulating, spreading dangerous claims and causing unnecessary panic.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III asked Filipinos to stop sharing false information on COVID-19 at a briefing in Malacañang on March 9. “Kung saang anggulo po natin tingnan, wala pong kabutihang ginagawa ang inyong mga fake news na ikinakalat. Sayang lang po ang panahon natin. (No matter what angle we look at it, there is nothing good done by the fake news you spread. It is a waste of our time.”
One of the ways that fake news is spread these days is through the Viber messaging app, with well-meaning Viber group members sharing items that they saw in another Viber group. Since Viber uses end-to-end encryption, it is impossible for the app to read messages and say whether a message received is fake news or not. That’s why Viber is giving you some helpful reminders for identifying fake news.
• Know the official authorities. There are government agencies and organizations battling the virus, and they have firsthand information on developments, confirmed cases, and important advisories. It’s best to remember who these agencies are so you can tell whether a cited source is credible. Locally, the Department of Health (DoH) is the lead government agency handling COVID-19 efforts, working with the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. They also work alongside international institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It would be helpful to follow these agencies’ official accounts, as there is fake information circulating out there that uses their names and logos to spread misinformation. Always check their verified channels before sharing posts.
To help spread legitimate updates on the virus, the DoH created a Viber Community to disseminate the latest news and information. To follow the group, search DOH PH COVID-19 on Viber. Aside from sharing helpful infographics and important statements on COVID-19, the DoH is also using the Viber community to debunk fake information being circulated online.
• Make sure the source is credible and real time. Always verify where an article or piece of information comes from. On Viber, check out verified news communities for constant updates on COVID-19. Top news organizations like Inquirer, GMA News, and CNN Philippines are all on Viber Communities, and one can follow them to get guaranteed credible stories and announcements as they happen. Even lifestyle and entertainment sites are sharing tips and reminders on their Viber Communities. Cosmo.ph and PEP.ph, for instance, have published articles on how to stay safe amidst the outbreak.
• Keep an eye out for these red flags. Pay attention to the quality of writing. Fake information almost always has bad grammar, spelling errors, and excessive punctuation since they’re usually written by independent parties with no journalism training, institutional backing, or fact-checking resources. Also look at what the story is actually reporting: Is it a stated claim from a medical organization, or is it a personal anecdote based on hearsay? Don’t trust a message about COVID-19 just because it was sent by a friend whose uncle works at a hospital. They might mean well, but if it’s not verified, it’s still gossip.
• Don’t let emotions take over. Ask yourself what the goal of an article is. Is it to induce panic and uncertainty, or to inform? Was it written by a credible reporter? Was it published on a site with a strong track record of reporting? When determining whether an article is fake, it’s usually best to take a step back and look at things more objectively. Don’t get caught up in the flurry of stories on your feed or chat.
Be critical and cautious — the information you share on COVID-19 can have a serious impact on your family, friends, and communities.