News travels fast on social media, and sometimes it can be false and dangerous. Stop the spread of bad health information with these quick tips.
Miracle cures, self-diagnosis claims, and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are popping up everywhere on the internet. How can you know what is true and what is not? Let’s take a look at some easy ways to evaluate online health information, in a matter of minutes.
Who said it?
Good information comes from experts who have degrees and professional experience. Is the author a health expert like a doctor, nurse, or medical researcher? Try searching their name to find out more about them. Trash it right away if you can’t figure out who even wrote it!
If the article is not written by a health expert, did the author include links to where they found the information? This is called “citing your source.” Sometimes sources are listed at the bottom of the page, or they might be included as a link in the text of the article. The source should be written by an expert.
When did they say it?
Health information can go out of date quickly. Look to see when the article was written. Ideally the information will be less than 2 years old. Trash it if there is no date!
Since COVID-19 is a new virus, there is not much existing research on the topic, so most information will be very new. This makes it even more important to ask yourself “Who said it?”
How did they know?
Anyone can share online about their personal experience with an illness or medical treatment, but this should not be taken as medical evidence or fact. Good health information comes from research that is reviewed and published. Does the information you are reading match with what other good sources are saying?
Pause before sharing
If reading a headline or tweet makes you say “I can’t believe it!” then DO NOT believe it, until you ask yourself the 3 questions above and decide it is trustworthy. Mike Caulfield, who is a digital information literacy expert, emphasizes the importance of pausing when you come across health news that gives you a big emotional response. Caulfield shares more ways to sort fact from fiction during the COVID-19 pandemic, with his SIFT tool.
National Network of Libraries of Medicine also provides more detailed questions to ask yourself when reading health information online.
Looking through news can be exhausting and overwhelming. Make it easier on yourself and go straight to one of these trusted sources of information on COVID-19:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Metro Public Health Department
National Institutes of Health research updates
Fake health news exists, and you need to be aware. Before you share on Facebook or retweet to your followers, take a few minutes to decide if the information should be trusted or trashed.