How to Avoid Misinformation as Coronavirus Spreads


NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — It's not just coronavirus that's rapidly spreading around the world. Experts say misinformation about the virus is traveling just as fast.

When a "crisis event" like the coronavirus outbreak explodes in the news, Jevin West, director of the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington, tells WCBS 880's Lynda Lopez that's when the public is most susceptible to believing misinformation online and on social media.

"That's because we want up-to-date information, we want it up-to-the-second, and that's when purveyors of misinformation are really on the hunt," West said.

Those spreading the misinformation may be doing it to make money from extra clicks with sensational headlines, to peddle products and miracle remedies or because they really believe they have an answer to the fears.

The center has collected some 50 million tweets over the past month that they're now studying and West said some of the information he's seen shared online is alarming.

"One of the most famous ones is that it came out of a Wuhan virology lab. Many scientists around the world, not just in China, have debunked that claim, I think it's a very dangerous claim," West said. "There's lots of rumors about how to treat it if you get coronavirus like drinking bleach or some new elixir that someone's selling or some vitamin. Really be aware of those kinds of things like the magical fix."

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West says the best thing you can do to make sure the information is reliable is look at the source. For example, a Twitter account with three followers and an outrageous claim is not likely to be trustworthy.

He says sticking with trusted sources such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will ensure the information you get is accurate.

"I would say another piece of advice is just to slow down during these crisis times and maybe wait one more day to get the most up to date information from the World Health Organization or CDC rather than rely on some new rumor that you hear online," West said.

And remember that if something sounds too bad — or too good — to be true, it probably is.

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