As more people turn to social media and other online sources for updates on the COVID-19 outbreak, determining which sources are reliable becomes increasingly difficult.
Two professors at West Virginia University are advising users of social media to question their own biases and turn to the local news media for information.
Dana Coester and Bob Britten, instructors at the university's Reed College of Media, formerly the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, are advising people to work hard to differentiate fact from fiction online.
Coester, who is an associate professor at the school, recommends that people look to local news and other trusted sources for information.
“We are already in a disrupted state for receiving credible information," Coester says.
"While social media can be an invaluable tool for informing and organizing community members—connecting us to resources and local efforts underway—it is also a source of misinformation and disinformation that can seed panic or chaos in a crisis."
Coester emphasizes the trustworthiness and relevance of local news media, who often work with national news sources such as the Associated Press.
"We urge community members to look to local news and other trusted sources for vetted information on the pandemic,” she says.
Britten, who is a teaching associate professor at the school, advises that social media users should question their own biases when seeking information.
“Wanting to believe or disbelieve a piece of information is the single best sign that you need to check something out before proceeding. If you've identified that ‘want,’ you should have a go-to process for what you do next," he said.
"Rather than focus on your opinion of the source itself—‘I trust The New York Times,’ which can also fall into that ‘want’ trap—try thinking about what makes the information itself trustworthy.”