OPINION

Sorting the virus facts from the fake news

At this unprecedented, unpredictable time, most of us can't get enough information about coronavirus.

Because it's a new illness and because the impact is so extreme, we're scouring news sites and social media to help us better understand the situation we're facing.

Unfortunately, as fear about the virus has escalated, so has the dissemination of misinformation, sensationalism and blatant lies.

By now, you've probably come across the Facebook post that says that gargling warm water can eliminate the virus. Or, the claim that you can self-diagnose by taking a deep breath for 10 seconds.

In a genuine health crisis these kinds of false posts are dangerous and irresponsible.

If you want to ensure you and your family don't fall victim to scams, you can't passively absorb news and social media. You must be active in finding reliable sources of information.

"Fake news" is rarely produced by reputable, established media organisations (despite President Trump's claims to the contrary).

In Australia, we are fortunate to have many excellent local, regional, metropolitan and national sources of news.

If you want accurate, up-to-date information about COVID 19, select some news organisations to subscribe to or follow, and add them to your social media accounts.

If you want to verify news reports, go directly to the official source. If you want to check the latest statistics on cases go to the Australian Government Department of Health website or your state's Health Department website. You can also follow them on Facebook for regular updates. For an international perspective, visit the World Health Organisation website.

Established news services rely heavily on government agencies at times such as these. You should be seeing plenty of details from government sources in news stories. If you're not, look elsewhere.

For specific guidance about COVID 19, seek out news reports that quote infectious disease specialists or epidemiologists.

As for social media, be sceptical about everything you encounter, unless it comes directly from someone you know and trust.

If you have a strong emotional reaction to a post, that's usually a sign it's clickbait. And resist the temptation to "share" and amplify the lies.

Still unsure? Use fact-checking resources such as those offered by the Corona Virus Facts Alliance or the BBC's tips on how to spot fake news.

Dr Kathryn Shine Head of Journalism, Curtin University