"It's extra important to be critical to sources in times of crisis"

In times of crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic, it is crucial to be extra critical to sources, according to Hannes Ewehag, lecturer and programme director at the School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University.

Hannes Ewehag.

The need for information about the coronavirus is huge, however there is not yet much verified or confirmed facts available.

“When there is a lack of reliable information, false information, speculations and rumours thrive”, says Hannes Ewehag.

Hannes Ewehag is the course coordinator for “Criticism of Sources in the Age of Virals, Alternative Facts and Fake News” at Jönköping University.

Strong emotions, like insecurity and fear are very common in relation to crises, such as the one we are currently in, connected to the coronavirus. According to Hannes Ewehag, this may lower our critical way of thinking.

“When we are isolated, social media can become our prime source of contact with the surrounding world. This makes us more inclined to assimilate and share information we normally would not. Strong emotions have a tendency to further boost this phenomenon”, he says.

A lot of the fake news connected to Covid-19, relate to where the virus originated from and claims it is man made, deriving from laboratories. There are also many posts including unverified information on how to protect yourself from the virus, which Hannes Ewehag points out even can be hazardous to peoples' health.

Another risk that comes with fake news is that important decisions may be based upon inadequate information.

So, how can we protect ourselves from fake news?

“It can be difficult to tell what is fake news and not, since fake news usually include a mix of true and false information. It is also common for fake news to present facts in misleading ways. Pay attention to the content of the post. Does it include facts, speculations or opinions and are these plausible?, says Hannes Ewehag.

He continues:
“Who are the messengers and what kind of intentions could they have? Would they profit from others spreading the information, and can the same information be found somewhere else? The people behind fake news usually strive to undermine peoples’ trust in societal institutions.

Hannes Ewehag calls upon a critical mindset related to what is spread through social media and emphasizes the importance to avoid sharing or commenting when affected by emotions like anger or fear. Only turning to trustworthy sources like authorities or traditional media is also a way of keeping fake news out of the way.

“Traditional media may angle and simplify news, but their motives are still to pass on true and honest information”, he concludes.

Quick tip:

Turn to WHO (World Health Organization) where many of the false rumours regarding the coronavirus are refuted.