How to spot and verify misinformation you find on the internet

Misinformation has spread as fast as the coronavirus and can be as dangerous. Here’s how to fight it.

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File) (Jenny Kane, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The evolving coronavirus pandemic coupled with the spread of misinformation on social media has led to fear and confusion for people searching for accurate and verified information on the internet.

In a sea of content and charged opinions, the facts can sometimes be hard to identify.

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Something might seem realistic and even could have been shared by someone you know and trust, but double-checking the source of the information — especially medical-related topics — is well worth your time. And it shouldn’t take long.

Here, we’ll give you a simple checklist for things to look out for when trying to determine whether something you saw online is true.

For example’s sake, take this Twitter conspiracy theory that the COVID vaccine can make people sick like the zombies in the movie “I Am Legend.” While this specific claim is obviously false — for one, the movie was released in 2007 and the coronavirus was first identified in late 2019 — let’s verify.

1. Be skeptical, in general

Knowing that there are massive amounts of misinformation floating around is the first step in combatting false claims.

In this specific example, the claim originated from the below tweet in January. A gif from the movie is shown with someone raising multiple questions in the tweet that hint at the conspiracy theory without offering a conclusion. With a little natural skepticism, nothing about the tweet signals that it is credible information.

2. Is it a photo with text or a meme?

Another red flag is often the way the information is presented. A meme is not as credible as, for instance, a peer-reviewed study published in a scientific journal.

Images, GIFs and videos posted with and overlay text can be made by anyone and to say anything. Some of these graphics can have very convincing imagery or wording that make them seem more believable.

If the source of the information is not credited, that’s a sign you need to do more digging to know whether it’s true. In this case, Google’s search engine (try the news search!) is your best friend.

In the instance of the zombie claim above, the image posted is a gif from a scene in the movie and the text above is making comparisons between a fictional movie and real-life.

Further, a little bit of Googling will prove that the year the movie is set in is incorrect in the tweet. I Am Legend was set in 2012, not 2021.

3. Is it hard to believe?

Zombies and vampires are fictional creatures. Widely tested and doctor-approved vaccines turning people into zombies or vampires isn’t believable and would be flooding social media and news feeds, considering more than half of the country has been vaccinated.

Also, pay attention to wording and punctuation. In this post, punctuation is used incorrectly, another sign that the source is not credible.

Considering the frequency of COVID virus and vaccine misinformation on social media, tweets mentioning anything related to COVID are tagged at the bottom on Twitter with a “See the latest COVID-19 information” on Twitter and “Visit the COVID-19 Information Center for vaccine resources” on Facebook. These links can be used as resources to check for the latest info from the CDC.

4. Check the source of the information

The source of this post doesn’t use a first and last name and is not a medical professional or infection specialist. Her past posts offer no medical advice or anything that suggests the owner of the account has medical authority.

This is one unreliable source, but you can still verify the information itself by checking if multiple, reputable news sources have reported on the claim made in the post. In this case, news outlets have in fact proved the claim to be wrong.

5. Check for media bias

Be aware of media bias that can cause clouding, altering or taking truthful information out of context. Again, one of the best ways to check against media bias is to search for multiple, credible news outlets reporting the same thing with a source cited.

The language used in presenting the information can also be motivated by political gain or add to ongoing disinformation, which can sometimes create an echo chamber that extends the life of the false claim, according to the Harvard Gazette.

6. Read the story, not just the headline

Reading beyond the headlines on social media can reveal dates, more details, and possibly links leading to other sources of information that might help determine if the information is reliable. Sometimes, a post may be resharing an older article that isn’t related to current events or may have an unbelievable headline to get more clicks, also known as clickbait.

In the case of the zombie post, the wording is phrased to get more clicks and reactions rather than share useful information.

7. Send it to the KSAT Trust Index HERE and we will help you determine if it is true or not.

The KSAT Trust Index fact-checks questionable information floating around social media that is submitted by readers. Submit the claim you want fact-checked here.

Other resources that may be helpful against COVID misinformation and improving media literacy:

About the Author

Raven Jordan is a digital and social intern at KSAT 12. She majored in digital and print journalism at UNT's Mayborn School of Journalism.

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