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Thanks to advancements in technology, people are becoming more connected now than ever through the internet and social media, sharing news quickly amongst each other. While navigating through these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are constant changes and new developments being shared every day. If you are staying home and practicing physical distancing, you might find yourself watching more news or reading articles online. While it is important to stay informed, we also need to be smart news consumers who can think critically and thoughtfully about the news we are receiving.

Approximately 81% of Americans get their news through websites, apps, or social networking platforms (Mitchell et al., 2016). The COVID-19 pandemic has also been dubbed an “infodemic,” illustrated by an over-abundance of information that makes it difficult for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable information – some accurate and some not – when they need it (Novel Coronavirus, 2020). Similar to being aware of online scams, you should also be aware of false or misleading news.

Here are some tips on how to be good news and health information consumers.

  • Use Trusted Sources (De Witte, 2020)
    • Check COVID-19 news and any health-related information from trusted sources such as established news platforms instead of social media stories.
      • Trusted sources include reputable news sources and government-run websites.
      • Unreliable sources include uncredited Facebook posts and similar posts on other social media platforms, as well as personal emails that copy and paste information that was obtained from “someone they know.” To verify if a post or email you see is correct, please cross-reference the information with a reputable news source or look for an original source.
      • You can also check to see where news sources are getting their information from. Some provide links to other sources of information.
    • The best sources of information on COVID-19 are the websites and social media accounts for the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and your state, county, or local public health departments and related government agencies.
    • If you have specific health care questions, or think you have COVID-19, contact your primary care physician.
  • Think Twice (De Witte, 2020)
    • Double check to see if you can find this information from another reliable source to confirm that it is accurate.
    • Don’t assume all news is real news. If it seems unrealistic, it might be. Practice good media consumption and think critically about the information you are receiving.
    • Looking into the broader context can help you better understand the news, especially when it seems contradictory. For example, ask if one state is doing something different than another state, that might be contributing to their differing results.
  • Google It (Ross, 2020)
    • With all the news available, there is a great deal of medical and scientific language and acronyms to sort through in addition to the information being presented. If you do not know what a word means, look it up.
  • Take Breaks  (Older Adults, 2020)
    • It can be tempting to look at the news frequently throughout the day. But constantly hearing or reading about how COVID-19 more severely affects older adults can be scary and overwhelming.
    • Take breaks from watching the news, reading articles, and listening to the radio. You can also set aside specific times to look at the news.
  • Search Locally
    • There are news updates coming from a wide variety of places. Make sure you are looking at news that is relevant to you and your area.
    • Look to your state and local governments for updates. Your state’s governor or your city’s mayor has a better understanding of what is happening in your specific location.
    • Follow your city’s Stay at Home orders because those affect you the most directly. Your city or county’s websites also have the best resources and information for you.
  • React vs. Respond
    • In the midst of so much uncertainty and negative news, it can be easy to be reactive. However, reactions are typically unconscious responses (James, 2016).
    • When watching or reading the news, take time to think about the information that is being shared, and respond accordingly.
    • For instance, in the coming weeks you may see an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. While this is understandably upsetting, instead of reacting negatively, think about how this increase may be partly due to the increase in available tests. Those with symptoms can get tested and get appropriate treatment.
    • Updates come out daily but instead of focusing on the numbers or negative aspects, try to stay positive and remember that you are doing your part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and staying safe.
  • Ask Questions (Arnold, 2018)
    • Check the author or journalist’s credentials. You should be able to tell who the author is and what organization they are representing.
    • Verify sources. Trustworthy sources include colleges, universities, government agencies, and reputable journalism organizations.
    • Read the whole article. Reading past the headlines to get the whole story will give you more information on the subject. Reading the entire article will also allow you to see where the information is coming from and if it is trustworthy.

Keiro’s Call to Action

There is a wealth of inaccurate or misleading news and misinformation being circulated about COVID-19. Emails and posts may be well-intentioned, but you should be sure you are sharing safe and accurate information. We are learning new things about COVID-19 every day, and not knowing everything can be a little scary. Don’t immediately believe everything you hear or read, even if it comes from a friend or loved one. Take time to think about and research what you hear. Since so much COVID-19 information is related to your health, be extra cautious around news claiming treatments or cures as none exist as of April 3, 2020.

Next time you read the newspaper or an article online, check if it is coming from a reputable journalism organization. Think about what you are reading, and if it doesn’t sound right, look for other sources displaying the same information. Remember to take breaks from the news and COVID-19 information. Before you start sharing anything to your friends and family, think twice and follow the steps above to make sure it is reliable information. Overall, continue to be a good health and news consumer as we continue to navigate this pandemic.

Sources

Arnold, A. (2018). How to Maintain Critical Thinking in the Modern World of New Media. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewarnold/2018/02/27/how-to-maintain-critical-thinking-in-the-modern-world-of-new-media/#6520417f50e5

De Witte, M. (2020). How to Avoid COVID-19 Fake News. Retrieved from https://www.futurity.org/covid-19-fake-news-social-media-2308862/

James, M. (2016). React vs Respond. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201609/react-vs-respond

Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., Shearer, E. (2016). The Modern News Consumer. Retrieved from https://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/the-modern-news-consumer/

Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (2020). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200202-sitrep-13-ncov-v3.pdf

Older Adults. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications/older-adults.html

Ross, E. (2020). A Glossary of Coronavirus Terms, from ARDS to Zoonotic. Retrieved from https://www.opb.org/news/article/covid-19-coronavirus-glossary-medical-scientific-terms/