24 March 2020

Fake news: watch out!

In a 2019 survey carried out by Ipsos for the Centre for International Governance Innovation, 86% of internet users worldwide stated they had already fallen into the trap of believing fake news. If there is one area that’s a breeding ground for fake news, it’s health. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, false information has been spreading throughout social media and messaging apps. Our tips will help you avoid the pitfalls.

 

That’s exactly the point for the people creating false information: to spread hoax messages as fast and widely as possible among the public. There may be humour or satire behind the intention but messages can also be ideological, political or economic.
Vinci paid the price in 2016 when a false press release announced that the Group’s CFO had been fired. The misinformation spread via the media and, in the minutes that followed, the share price plummeted with losses amounting to €7 billion.

 

“A doctor friend told me…”

Reliable at first glance, these messages often contain false information about the virus and how to protect yourself, for example drinking hot drinks or sunbathing as the virus is not resistant to heat. In Germany, a false rumour spread about Aldi supermarkets closing. In Madrid, some residents have received voice messages announcing an increase in cases among children in a single hospital. In Africa, people are saying that the virus can be transmitted by mosquitoes. This information is false yet spreading like wildfire. Worse still, some articles appear to source reliable scientific content (graphics, scientific terms) when this is not the case.

 

Media and social media

Since the start of the crisis, a large number of media outlets and their fact-checking departments have been trying to quash these rumours. Article after article they are trying to set the record straight and quash false information in a real battle for public attention. The major digital platforms published a joint statement on Monday 16 March.

fake news
 

 

Our tips for combatting fake news

  • If you are reading an online article, you can apply the following tips published by the French government or by the non-profit Check Africa: which verifies that the publication is reliable and the article and comments cite credible sources (with links).
     
  • If you are reading social media posts, watch this video by the BBC or this article by France Inter, which advises you to beware of comments such as “a Wuhan researcher told me that…”
     
  • If you’re in any doubt, you can read this WHO article: it provides the latest scientific responses to fake news about the virus.