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Help stamp out COVID-19 rumors and stigma

A young woman rests her chin on one hand, thinking.

Dec. 4, 2020—Since the pandemic began, there's been a flood of information about COVID-19—some reliable, some not. Sorting through it all can be daunting. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls it an "infodemic."

When rumors and falsehoods spread, they can do real harm. They can stop people from taking steps to protect themselves, prevent them from getting necessary treatment or cause discrimination.

You have a role to play when it comes to stemming the tide of rumors and falsehoods. You can refuse to spread them. That requires doing a little homework before you click "share." The WHO offers these tips for assessing what's true and what's not.

1. Check out the source of the information. Who sent it to you? Where did they get it? If it's from a social media account, how long has it been active? What kind of information is in its other posts? If it came from a website, check the "About Us" and "Contact Us" pages of the site to see if they look legitimate. You can even use reverse image search tools to check if photos and videos are being reused in misleading ways.

2. Read the whole story, not just the headline. Headlines can be misleading in order to get more clicks. Before you share something, make sure you understand the full story.

3. Get your news from multiple sources. Go beyond social media newsfeeds. Look at what a variety of newspapers, magazines, online news sites, podcasts and other sources are saying about the topic.

4. Assess the author. Do a Google search on the author's name to find out if they are a real authority on the subject.

5. Look for a date. Is the information recent enough to still be reliable and relevant? Are there newer sources you can double-check?

6. Look for claims to be backed up. Are expert sources quoted? Are facts or studies linked to their original sites? And do those links support the message?

7. Check your own biases. We all tend to filter information through our own world view. What assumptions might you be making? How is your reaction to the information shaped by your beliefs?

8. See what fact-checkers say about it. One such site you can use is the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance Database. It gathers reports from fact-checkers in over 70 countries who've debunked common coronavirus myths and misinformation.

9. Pause before you share. The WHO suggests asking yourself these questions before sharing something online:

  • How does this make me feel?
  • Why am I sharing this?
  • How do I know if it's true?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Whose agenda might I be furthering by sharing it?

Stopping stigma

One of the reasons to be careful about the information you spread is the stigma it can create for others. Stigma is discrimination against a group of people or a place. It can come from a lack of knowledge—or be borne from fear and the need to blame someone for bad times.

Some groups who may be stigmatized during the pandemic include:

  • People from other countries.
  • People from some racial or ethnic groups.
  • People who have had the virus or been quarantined because of it.
  • People who may have trouble following guidelines because of disabilities or health conditions.
  • Healthcare workers.
  • Essential workers.
  • People experiencing homelessness.

Stigma takes the focus off the virus, which is the real problem. And it can make it harder to stop the spread.

You can help prevent stigma by:

  • Sharing accurate information about how the virus spreads.
  • Speaking out against stigmatizing statements and images.
  • Avoiding sharing stigmatizing information or images on social media.
  • Keeping other people's private health information to yourself.
  • Supporting the work of healthcare workers and other essential workers.

You can find reliable information about COVID-19 in our Coronavirus health topic center.

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