How to Deal With Coronavirus Misinformation


Don't Spread the Virus is an evidence-driven approach to countering the scourge of misinformation on Coronavirus online, on social media and messaging apps.

Follow the guidance, which is endorsed by the UK Government, to drown out misinformation with information that keeps us safe.

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Coronavirus has unleashed two parallel pandemics which reinforce each other. 

One is biological: the virus itself – and the other is social: misinformation. Misinformed people put themselves and others at risk by taking dangerous quack cures, showing false confidence and mistrusting official guidance which is designed to minimise public harm.

Social media companies should be doing everything they can to get a handle on this – something we have repeatedly called for – not just because it’s a bad look for business, but because a vast number of human lives are at stake which makes it a fundamentally moral issue.

From our research we’ve found Facebook groups amassing hundreds of thousands of members, and YouTube channels with millions of subscribers, awash with fake “cures” and conspiracy theories about everything from Covid-19 being caused by 5G towers to false flag theories about a New World Order.

These posts aren’t just preposterous, they’re dangerous, decreasing trust in government advice at a time when it is vital for us to listen to official recommendations on how we can reduce the spread of coronavirus. 

But just because social media companies are slow to act doesn’t mean we are powerless. If anything, it increases the urgency for all of us to take responsibility and mobilise against the spread of misinformation – just as people are mobilising against the spread of the biological contagion.

Don’t Spread The Virus, the advice we have published today, is about giving everyone simple, actionable tools we can all implement to push back the tide.

First, if you see untruths on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or elsewhere online, don’t engage with it. Don’t comment, don’t share it, even if it’s to argue that it’s untrue. The way social media works means that whenever we engage with a post it make it seem more popular.

Next, if you don’t know the person posting misinformation, block them so you don’t see anything else they post. If it is someone you know, message them privately to politely warn them of the dangers of posting misinformation and ask them to delete it. You can also easily report content to the platform on which you find it, and ask them to take it down.

Finally, we can drown out misinformation by instead sharing the official medical advice.  Social media is essentially a numbers game: the more people share advice from the government, the NHS, and other experts, and ignore the misinformation out there, the more people will see the correct information rather than the false advice. It’s that simple.

Right now, across the world, millions of people are wondering when life will return to normal, when they can go back to work and even whether they and their relatives will make it through the coming months alive.

The extent to which we can contain both the biological contagion and the social contagion will decide their fate. Until social media companies show the will to act, it falls to all of us to step up and stop the spread of this virus.

This op-ed first appeared in The Telegraph