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How to fact-check during the coronavirus outbreak

Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance
03 April 2020

In situations like this, having access to accurate information and advice about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is very important. But with so much information out there, how can we be sure that everything we read is factually correct? And how do we know that the content we share with family and friends to protect them is true?

Spreading misleading or false health advice is often done with the best of intentions. But, if the information ends up being untrue, it can do more harm than good. Knowing how to fact-check health advice, and what websites are trustworthy can help to protect us against this.

a woman's hands holding a mobile phone

Trusted sources of coronavirus information

For reliable medical information about the coronavirus, it’s important to stick to reputable medical resources online such as the NHS, GOV UK (PHE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr Paula Falconer, Lead Physician for Bupa Health and Dental Centre agrees, but stresses the importance of accessing information that is relevant to you.

“The NHS and Public Health England should be the main sources of health information for everyone. WHO is of course a reputable source of information, but remember their advice has to span numerous countries, different populations and health systems. Although this is a global pandemic, it’s important to stick to the advice of the country where you are living, which will be most relevant.”

Where to go for UK government advice

But, if you are looking for advice from the UK government on how the public should be responding, go to the GOV.UK website. There you’ll find the latest advice on what you need to do, from staying at home, travel and social distancing guidance. The website also has accurate information on the latest number of coronavirus cases.

It’s also important to remember that scrolling endlessly through large volumes of information can have a negative impact on the way we feel. “Things continue to change rapidly, and the speed of new information can feel overwhelming. By sticking to a small number of sources for your information, it will be more manageable,” adds Dr Falconer.

Ways to fact-check information

Unreliable and incorrect or misleading information can circulate in many forms. If you’ve seen some advice or information related to the coronavirus that you’re unsure of, fact-checking charities such as Full Fact, can check if any claims you read are accurate and up-to-date.

Here are some other ways we can all check if a piece of content is trustworthy, or not.

Not everything you read is true. Don’t believe everything you read on social media or through your WhatsApp groups, as there is lots of false information doing the rounds. Check the page where the information came from so see how reliable it seems.

Use trusted sources online. If you read something that you’re not sure about, or don’t recognise the source, look at the NHS or Public Health England websites. These are where you can check what the latest information and advice is, as mentioned above.

Check if other news sites are reporting it. If you’re unsure about the reliability of a health news story, check to see what other trusted news sites and fact-checking websites are saying about it.

Watch out for false news stories or anonymous sources. News that is false can be presented to look like a familiar website, such as the NHS. Check for clues such as unusual content, bad spelling, a false URL or awkward layout. And, if you receive information from an anonymous source that you don’t recognise, don’t share it with others.

Beware of misleading images and videos. Genuine images and videos online can be manipulated and changed with misleading editing or captions to appear like things they’re not. Search engines like Google Chrome can help you to find the source of the image. Just right-click on the image and choose ‘Search Google for image”.

Checking for good health information websites

It can also sometimes be difficult to distinguish a trustworthy website from an unreliable one. Here are four key things you can look out for.

1. Is the information up-to-date?

Look out for a published or ‘last reviewed’ date. Ideally the information should have been produced or updated within the last three years. Medical science is constantly evolving, and the consensus can shift quickly, so the best websites will keep on top of regularly updating their pages.

2. Is it clear and easy to understand?

It shouldn’t feel like you’re reading an academic journal article! The best providers of health information for the public will write in simple, straightforward language and avoid any complicated medical jargon.

3. Have experts helped to produce it?

Check for signs of expert involvement – it might be a doctor who is thanked for their input on the page, for example. This shows you that it hasn’t been published without anyone who has the relevant medical or healthcare training checking it first.

4. Are the claims backed up?

Many of the most reputable websites will give details of the original sources that their facts come from, so you can see that the claims are based on good evidence. And these should always be dependable research sources, like large scientific studies or clinical guidelines, rather than personal blogs or newspaper articles.

A final word of advice

Constantly scrolling though websites and social media outlets for the latest news and advice can make us feel anxious and worried. Try and limit the amount of time you are on social media or news websites, and let your brain focus on other things apart from the coronavirus.

Things continue to change rapidly, and the speed of new information can feel overwhelming. By sticking to a small number of reliable sources for your information, it will be more manageable and avoid the need to fact-check everything you read.

Dr Luke James
Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance

    • Guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Gov UK., updated 30 March 2020
    • Coronavirus. World Health Organization., accessed 26 March 2020
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do. GOV UK., accessed 26 March 2020
    • How you can fact check claims about the new coronavirus. Full Fact., accessed 26 March 2020
    • Do you know what good health information looks like?, 02 July 2019

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