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A Doctor's Tips for Spotting Fake COVID-19 News

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Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH - Blogs
By Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistMarch 25, 2020

As we all try to stay safe from COVID-19, arming yourself with accurate news information has never been more important – but it’s not always easy. Fake news can be challenging to recognize because there’s often a little truth mixed in with misinformation. Some of the articles I’m seeing about coronavirus and COVID-19 are only slightly inaccurate (or aren’t updated), but others are just plain false speculation and conspiracy theories. 

With today’s social media platforms, false information can go viral, being shared countless times across the globe quickly. I get it. It's easy to partially read an article, assume it’s accurate, and hit “share.”

What concerns me is that the chatter of fake news drowns out the credible health information that we all need right now. One false news article can do double harm by leading you down a dangerous path and keeping you from valuable, helpful information. 

Here are some tips to avoid fake news and recognize accurate, useful information. 

  • Is there a date? With COVID-19, information is changing rapidly. So, it’s important to know when the article was published and last updated so you can be sure you’re getting  the most current data. 
  • Who is the author? If you’re reading about the latest medical advances for COVID-19, make sure the author is qualified. Or, look for a medical review by a doctor or other health professional. You should be able to easily find a bio that shares the author’s or reviewer’s professional qualifications.
  • Are sources listed? 
    • If an article refers to a study from China, you should be able to get information about the study. Some sites will directly link to a scientific journal article. For others, you may have to scroll down to click on a source list. Beware of vague references to research that you can’t easily validate.
    • If an expert is referenced, check their qualifications online as well. Do they have the education and expertise to give their opinion?
  • Is the website legitimate? 
    • If it feels like you’re reading an advertisement, you probably are. Check the website’s ‘about’ page to find out who supports the organization and what their mission and values are. Are they committed to educating the public about a health issue or are they raising awareness about a product?
    • Sometimes a fake site will try to match its logo or URL to a legitimate website. Look closely to make sure you’re at the right place. 
  • Is the information available on other websites? COVID-19-related news trends are typically consistent across legitimate websites. If you’re reading something that sounds different or contrary to what you’re seeing elsewhere, start digging. If someone is making a recommendation you’re not sure of, look to sites like the CDC, WHO, or your state’s Department of Public Health for guidance. And of course, call your doctor. 

It is challenging to sort through true and false information, especially since our knowledge and experience with COVID-19 is evolving day by day. But, with your health at stake, the accuracy of news information is more important than ever. So, double and triple check content before you trust it – and before you share it on your social media pages. Do your part to stop the spread of false information.

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About the Author
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a WebMD Medical Editor. She is on the team that makes sure all WebMD content is medically correct, current and understandable. She sees patients at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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