Crises such as the Covid-19 epidemic create an environment filled with stress and anxiety. In this context, fearmongering, outlandish claims and other fictitious ideas can spread easily. The recent crisis generated a rise in fake news around the world. In the face of such an anxiety inducing context, how can you recognize and deal with fake news?
Over the past months, fake news has impacted everyone. Even leading medical publications such as the Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine had to withdraw an article related to Covid-19 information provided by a US company, Surgisphere. The published study (The Lancet, May 22) suggested that hydroxychloroquine, when associated with an antibiotic such as azithromycin, could increase mortality in patients hospitalized with Covid-19. In France, the publication resulted in the molecule no longer being used for treatment and a suspension of clinical studies to test its efficiency.
"In a press release, The Lancet indicated that the article's withdrawal was requested by three co-authors, but not Sapan Desai, the surgeon and founder of the company Surgisphere, which supposedly collected medical data on 96,000 patients in 671 hospitals across 6 continents," highlights the newspaper Le Monde, and the goes on to conclude: "Now remains the task of analyzing and understanding how a small unknown company like Surgisphere was able to associate highly recognized researchers to its article and pass the review process at two of the most prestigious medical reviews."
A crisis is fertile ground for fake news
In concrete terms, such fake news can impact an institution's credibility, harm society and individuals due to negative consequences in terms of public health and the sector's image. A crisis offers fertile ground for fake news because tension is high and leaves little room for rational thinking in the world of the internet and social networks.
"It's important to check the veracity of information in order to not help spread rumours," underlines Yannick Chatelain, associate professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management where he is in charge of IT/Digital development and is an expert for the UNODC. Fake news about 5G antennas and their potential ability to spread the coronavirus is another example of rumors propagated by conspiracy theorists, who went as far as to destroy antennas in the UK. "Another negative impact of fake news is that it drowns out real facts in a swell of false information… This means that whistleblowers for example might not be heard."
For this reason, it's essential to be vigilant about internet information, especially in times of crisis. Common sense must remain at the forefront. "The guiding principle is to double-check information as soon as it is published. Sometimes we re-tweet an article based on 280 characters without even reading the article!" concludes Yannick.
Recommendations to evaluate information
- On social networks, blogs and websites be careful when you are strongly encouraged to share a message, especially when it is scaremongering.
- Check the context and ensure there is coherence between images, video, text, voice overs, etc. Also check the timeline. You can use Google images to check the validity of a "shocking image".
- Check the website's reliability. The French website, lesdecodeurs.com, created by Le Monde, is a reference point in France to check the validity of a website's information.
- If information appears to be defamatory, is it also being shared by reliable French and international sources such as leading media?
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