This article provides media literacy tips to help evaluate information about COVID-19.
Following the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) enacted a policy that scientific publishers worldwide would make research and data on public health emergencies freely available. What this has meant for the COVID-19 pandemic is that there is a wealth of information circulating that has little quality control, and for individuals without research literacy, the information is almost indecipherable. The amount of misinterpretation is excessive. When communicating complex messages, it is important to adhere to the following guidance:
- Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know
- Check the sources of information
- Ask relevant experts
- Remember that there is uncertainty in science
Because each stakeholder (e.g., scientific community, layperson, educated health professional) develops their own narrative based on their own expertise, public health and political officials need to address the anxieties and fears communicated in the narratives to lessen the risk of widespread panic and noncompliance. Individuals also have a responsibility to educate themselves on how to scrutinize information to assess its validity by asking the following questions:
- What is the source?
- Who are the authors? What are their qualifications and conflicts of interest?
- Is this peer-reviewed?
- How old is the source?
- Are there additional sources confirming or disagreeing with this source? If so, what seems to be the consensus view?
- What do the major independent institutions (CDC, WHO) say about the information?
- What, if any, discrepancies do I see in the source with an untrained eye?
By following these guidelines, the risk of believing and perpetuating misconceptions is lessened.