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During times of crisis, the growing demand for information and clarity creates opportunities for spreading disinformation. As the demand for reliable and regular information outstrips the supply of guidance and advice by national authorities, the gap is filled by other, unofficial and unverified, sources of information.

To combat disinformation campaigns, governments can streamline their provision of regular and clear information to the public and invest in boosting media literacy among the population. For businesses, strengthening capacity to verify and authenticate information will be critical.

To support this effort, global risk and intelligence consultancy S-RM has put together six tips for identifying disinformation in the news and social media:

1. Verify the publisher.
Disinformation is published primarily by sources with no strict editorial oversight and low fact-checking standards, and by outlets funded by foreign governments.

  • Look at the publication’s About page, or research them online, to understand who owns/funds it or whether they have an underlying agenda.

2. Interrogate the sharing platform.
Disinformation on COVID-19 often spreads through social media platforms and messengers such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

  • Some social media profiles spreading disinformation may mimic accounts of legitimate news sources, while others present themselves as regular individuals possessing “secret knowledge”.
  • If the profile was created recently, its posts appear to cover similar topics, and it lacks followers or other real human interactions, it is likely to be a bot.

3. Check citations.
A prominent hallmark of disinformation is the lack of legitimate sources.

  • While reputable media outlets will quote well-established institutions such as the World Health Organization, disinformation campaigns avoid citing sources completely, or quote seemingly legitimate, though vague and unspecified, sources.
  • Examples of vague sources found in COVID-19 reporting include “doctors from Wuhan”, “Taiwan experts”, or “Stanford Hospital board”.

4. Look for other coverage.
An indication of possible disinformation is surprising, controversial, or upsetting content, which does not appear to be available on other, well-established and credible, websites.

  • The controversial nature of this kind of disinformation increases the likelihood of it being shared by the reader, especially if it is in line with the reader’s pre-existing beliefs.

5. Read beyond the headline.
Articles containing disinformation often use misleading and / or sensationalist headings to attract more readers.

  • If you then engage with the body of the content, you are likely to find further speculations indicating that the information in the heading is not necessarily verified.

6. A good, old-fashioned proof-read.
Poor spelling and grammar and a sensationalist style are more characteristic of disinformation.

Multiple spelling mistakes, low standards of English, an overly dramatic style of writing, or frequent use of capital letters to emphasize the importance of certain statements all indicate that media outlets using such methods are likely to publish disinformation.

Read S-RM’s full article on managing disinformation amid the COVID-19 outbreak here.

The following resources are publicly available for those looking to validate the credibility of a publication or verify its claims:

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