By Kara Blizzard
Augustana librarian Kara Blizzard offers 5 tips to use when determining who and what to trust, and when to take a break, from the overwhelming amount of news and information around the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Markus Spiske, Unsplash)
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we are all receiving a stream of updates on the news, on social media and in personal conversations. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. How can you tell who and what to trust, especially when different sources offer conflicting views? As a librarian who regularly teaches students about finding and evaluating information, I have a few tips.
- Be critical. At times like this, misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (deliberately misleading information) are common. If someone shares a social media post with facts or figures, see if it includes an author or organization. If it does, search online to find out more about them. Do they have specialized knowledge and experience with the topic? Search for other sources that include the same facts to verify them. If you can’t find an author or verify facts, be skeptical of the information.
- Choose a few key sources that you can rely on. Facebook posts should not be your primary source of information. During a pandemic, the World Health Organization is a good place to start. For more local information, look at the Alberta Government’s website for COVID-19 facts and advice. When you watch or read the news, consult more than one source or publication to help ensure that you get a balanced view.
- Recognize that information will change. COVID-19 is new to the world, and scientists are only just beginning to study it. Information that is breaking now could change over time as more is learned about the virus and the pandemic. Information can become outdated very quickly, such as advice regarding face masks, so look for recent updates.
- Accept uncertainty. This recommendation is particularly challenging: COVID-19 will affect all of us, and it’s normal to want to know what will happen. It is important to recognize, though, that even experts don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks, months and years. Epidemiologists, economists and others may make predictions, but these are not concrete. The information being published now only represents a small piece of the puzzle.
- Limit your exposure to COVID-19-related information. It can be tempting to scroll through endless posts and news stories about the pandemic, but to avoid being overwhelmed, try to set limits. Maybe check the news only once a day or login to Facebook or Twitter for only 15 minutes at a time. It would be impossible to read all that is being written about COVID-19, and I don’t recommend trying!
These five tips are meant to add context to the deluge of information and help you to prioritize what to read or watch. Such skills are important at any time, but especially during the current global crisis. For more on evaluating information, consider watching the “Online Verification Skills” videos at newsliteracy.ca. At times like this, it is critical for all of us to communicate reliable and accurate information in order to protect ourselves and our communities.