In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, new developments have been popping up every few minutes, especially on social media. However, everyone should be aware of misleading news and false reporting. While some claims are comically outlandish, such as the one about Bill Gates supposedly creating the coronavirus, other claims that misreport the coronavirus death toll or official WHO statements are more dangerous.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during this outbreak:
- Get your news straight from the source, such as your local and federal health organizations. This includes the WHO or the CDC.
- If a website is making a claim that you can't quite wrap your head around — check their sources! If they are citing an older version of their own article, that's a pretty big red flag.
- Be critical of the information you see, and always cross-check the consistency of facts by looking for the same information on different news platforms.
- The good old "correlation vs causation" rule. Yes, there is a video out there that shows someone eating a cooked bat. And yes, coronaviruses are known to infect bats. Does that mean that this video shows an example of an incident that caused a coronavirus infection? Not necessarily.
For more ways to dodge fake news, here is another great article by from Harvard University.
Also, remember, if you're feeling panicky about coronavirus, it's not nearly as worrisome as regular, old-fashioned influenza*, which we live with every day.
(Ed: We wrote this note in late January, and now in March it is obvious that we were wrong. to say this. Coronavirus is obviously in no comparable in severity to the seasonal flu. As editor I take full responsibility for this lapse in judgement. Aside from this note, I feel it would be unethical to change this piece to save face, so I am leaving it unedited for posterity's sake - Dan Samorodnitsky.)