How to Recognize Disinformation in an “Infodemic”

TSP • @myTSPnet


This year has been marked by an information overload. When the entire world has easy access to technology, news and social media, there are bound to be false narratives started, spread and believed. Not only are we living in a pandemic — we’re living in an infodemic.

As we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, we need to also stop the spread of disinformation. The first step to stopping this spread of inaccurate information is recognizing the problem. Where do you start? How do you recognize disinformation? Keep reading to learn how to recognize disinformation.

It’s important to know the differences between facts, opinions and speculations so that we can better question our information intake and recognize the voices we are believing. A fact is provable and verifiable. An opinion is a viewpoint often formed by personal experiences and beliefs. A speculation is a theory formed without concrete evidence. Unless information has hard numbers and statements from accredited scientists and researchers, don’t assume everything you read is a fact.

Everyone has an opinion. Opinions are often formed from our social influences, political beliefs, religion and personal experiences. Technology allows anyone with an opinion to share what they believe to be true with millions of people in a matter of seconds.

COVID-19 was new to everyone. Scientists, researchers and doctors were learning about the virus along with the rest of the world. When there is little background information about something as unfamiliar as COVID-19, people are quick to try to put the pieces together themselves, leading to speculation. Without much information about the virus, people create their own hypotheses based on the little experience they have had, or tidbits they have heard.

Where are you reading your news? A simple way to avoid the trap of disinformation is to evaluate your news intake and sources. While some news outlets do their best to present only facts, many are prone to share the news with bias.

Bias is one of the quickest ways disinformation is spread. When people share news with bias, they often have their own agenda. Don't believe something to be true after only reading one website or source. Research what you read to see if there are any other similar reports. Odds are, if you can't find the same claim from more than one source, you should be wary. By reading multiple sources, you'll have a better understanding of biases, opinions and reliable sources. You may even want to reference a fact-checking site, understanding that even the fact-checking sites may have bias.

Your social media feed should not be your news source. Believe it or not, your co-worker, former classmate and uncle don't know everything. Social media gives individuals the power to create their own media content to share with millions of people at the click of a button. Don’t rely on others to read the news for you and then correctly post it to your feed. Read news for yourself and do your own research. The more you read the news, the easier and more routine it gets.

Social media sites use algorithms to predict what each user would want to see on his or her feed. Suggested reading is dangerous because people will be less likely to look to different news sources outside of their feed.

If scrolling on social media is your preferred way of getting your news, follow multiple news outlets from local, regional and national sources. Following these outlets will allow you to get real news in real-time, but from a variety of verified sources.

Technology allows us to stay up to date with the latest news and findings. It’s very helpful when information and awareness needs to be spread quickly to a large audience. However, the danger arises when opinions and speculation are presented as facts, leading to widespread disinformation.

A tangible way you can help stop the spread of disinformation in the current infodemic is to share information responsibly. Do your part to make it easier for others to recognize inaccuracies. Pause before posting or sending news to your group chat. Did this article contain facts and proven research? Did you verify the information with multiple sources? Who did you hear this from? If we all take more time to consider our personal news intake, we can help manage the infodemic responsibly.