Misinformation in the time of COVID-19 – #SlowtheSpread



“The biggest mistake any us can make in these situations is to misinform” Barack Obama April 9, 2020, Bloomberg Philanthropies, COVID-19 Local Response Initiative

We all know that misinformation is rampant during a time of crisis. Despite knowing this, I have been in a near-constant state of angst in the past few weeks because of the COVID-19 misinformation that I have seen shared via social media, texts, direct messaging, and emails. And this doesn’t even include those comments on social media sites that, as a rule, I completely ignore.  There’s no point providing multiple examples of this misinformation – suffice to say, Bill Gates did not write a letter saying that COVID-19 is a “great corrector.”  The Guardian news site recently published an opinion piece claiming that “Coronavirus misinformation is dangerous. Think before you share.”

As an Information Management professional, I feel compelled to provide some tips on how to ensure the information you consume and share is accurate, evidence-based, and not harmful. Keep these tips in mind as we continue to cope with this pandemic, especially when receiving those FWD:>fwd: >fwd: >fwd:> RE: emails you get from your well-meaning Aunt Polly.

Consider some of the key professional competencies of a Reference Librarian, as outlined by the American Library Association.  A Reference Librarian “evaluates, collects, retrieves, and synthesizes information from diverse sources.” More specifically, they:

  • Evaluate reference tools and sources for quality, relevance, authenticity, authority, and inclusiveness
  • Identify any bias or point of view in an information resource
  • Connect users to highly recommended, carefully selected sources in many formats
  • Create useful research guides, web pages, bibliographies, finding aids, and other appropriate tools in areas of expertise

You can practice these behaviours to help you avoid the misinformation trap:

  • Evaluate any information you receive for authenticity and authority. If you are skeptical about the authenticity, always start with Snopes (love, love, love Snopes). Then check out sites like Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center or the Smithsonian Magazine “How to avoid misinformation about COVID-19.” Always check for cited sources and if those sources are valid. And don’t forget to apply the “CRAAP” test.
  • Identify bias by examining if the language is extreme, is it more emotional than logical, is it only a limited view? Check out How to Evaluate Information Sources: Identify Bias.
  • Connect users to recommended sources, or “how do I tactfully tell Aunt Polly that the email she forwarded is a complete hoax?” Make sure you keep it personal – don’t ‘reply all’ and say, “you’re wrong!” You can suggest that they take a look at a source that you have authenticated that provides evidence to refute the claim. Offer to be their ‘fact checker.’
  • Create your own COVID-19 “research guide” – simply list your favourite sites that you have identified as reliable sources. These can be your go-to sites when you want to validate information you’ve received.  And check out these apps: World Health Organization WHO Coronavirus Info; and Government of Canada COVID-19 Support App.

Another tip – practice acceptance. Accept that the guidance from government sources will change as the pandemic evolves and ensure you stay informed. Go to your “research guide” and keep up to date on the changes. Also, accept that you might feel overwhelmed with information – then move to act on a plan to get your information only from your trusted sources.

One final tip – stop reading Aunt Polly’s emails.

Lynne Hunks is a senior Information Management consultant at Systemscope. Lynne holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree from UWO and has over 25 years of experience in Information Management and Information Technology. She has evolved her Information Management, analytical and management skills through diverse assignments within the Government of Canada and the private sector.


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