How reliable is the COVID-19 information you’re getting online?

May 19, 2020 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

There’s a seemingly endless amount of information about COVID-19 available online, but unfortunately not all of it is accurate. In fact, some of it is purposely misleading or dangerous. To ensure that the information you’re reading and the advice you’re getting is based on scientific evidence rather than speculation or misinformation, it’s wise to carefully vet your online information sources.

These tips can help you determine if the online information you’re reading is reliable:

  • Consider the source. Many people get at least some of their news from social media sources like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where friends, celebrities, politicians, and others share information they claim or believe is true about the pandemic. These platforms are also where a great deal of misinformation and rumors are posted, so be skeptical of anything posted here, even information that purports to be reposted from reputable information sources like the CDC and reliable news media outlets. A better option is to seek information directly from reliable news sources and organizations such as the CDC, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and state and local health departments. A health advisor can also be a resource for evidence-based information on COVID-19.
  • Know what research is reliable. You may think that if an article or website includes references or links to research, then the information is valid. But that’s not always the case. Because COVID-19 is a novel or new virus and because what we’re learning about it is changing rapidly, studies are being published and picked up by the media quickly. Many of these studies have not been published in peer-reviewed journals and the data they present and conclusions they reach may not be accurate or have not yet been validated.
  • Vet websites carefully. When you get health information from a website, you should first find out as much as possible about the source. Look at the About Us section to learn who sponsors the site and what the mission and values of the organization are. Look for the name of an author or contributor and see if information is included about that person’s credentials. You can also go a step farther and search the author’s name online to learn more about him or her. If the site offers medical advice, was the content reviewed by a physician with experience in the field? You should also check the date of information that’s posted to make sure it’s current.
  • Look for signs of bias. Especially with .com sites, it’s important to read the information with an eye toward spotting bias or conflict of interest. Is the information provided geared to convincing you to buy the product or service the site is selling?
  • Compare the information with what’s available on other sites. If what you read seems to contradict information you find from other legitimate sources or if this is the only place you’ve seen this information, be skeptical. It’s worth taking the time to compare the information you’re unsure about with information from websites like those mentioned above.