The fact that your friends and family check facts on social media is not as strange as you think – and it can help slow down the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus.
A recent survey found that 34 percent of people reported correcting someone else to share about COVID-19 on social media. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they themselves had checked incorrect information about coronavirus, and more than two-thirds agree that people should respond when they see someone sharing false claims.
This is good news – research shows that misperceptions decrease when people correct incorrect information in their social media. For coronavirus-related scams, improving the record is even more important.
Since the start of the pandemic, PolitiFact has factually investigated several inaccurate claims about how to prevent or treat COVID-19. Many of them are dangerous, such as the false claim that using bleach can destroy the virus or that wearing a mask in public is harmful. If taken seriously, such misinformation can have serious health consequences.
To make cheating a little easier for everyone, we have created a guide to verify your friends and family on the coronavirus pandemic. Below are six tips to make your timelines a little more true.
1. Do not brush it
Take the matter seriously if you see someone fake about the coronavirus. Incorrect health information can cause the damage.
“In the midst of a pandemic, personal choice is inherently tied to the community. Every choice I make to be safer and more risky has not only for me but for many other people as well,” said Emily Vraga, associate professor. . of journalism at the University of Minnesota. “It makes it more important that we correct other people.”
Even if it feels like a small action, social media can make a difference. A study compiled by Vraga in 2017 found that corrections can reduce health misperceptions online – even among the most ardent conspiracy theorists. This is especially true if you are actually checking on someone you know.
“For conspiracy theories, it can actually be easier,” Drew Margolin, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell University, said in an email. “It is often the case that theory is really a way of communicating mistrust in a particular individual or entity. That is why the theories adapt so easily – they are motivated by mistrust, not by specific facts.”
In short: facts matter, and anyone can use them to correct misconceptions about the coronavirus.
2. Consider your approach
Once you have decided that you want to correct someone, the next step is to think about how you are going to do it. The goal is to convey accurate information in an analytical, scientific way – not to drive people crazy or prove you’re smart.
“Try to prevent them from provoking to defend themselves,” Margolin said. “It means they are not embarrassed – like doing it privately – or possibly diplomatically correcting others so that they do not lose face.”
When people feel attacked, they may think their worldview or reputation has been challenged. This leads to less analytical thinking, Margolin said, making a fact-based discussion much more difficult.
RELATED: 7 ways to prevent misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic
Whether you correct someone in a private message or in front of others depends on the person. If you think they will not respond well to a public correction, it is good to reach out directly, especially if you want to maintain the relationship. But researchers say there is an advantage to checking someone in front of other people.
“Social media actually makes it more important that we are willing to participate in the corrections because we know other people are going to see it, and we want to make sure they are not left with the wrong information,” Vraga said.
3. Keep an eye on your language – or do not
Checking someone can help you use language that does not abrade or diminish. A gentle approach can help the person correcting you to see that you have the best interest in it.
“Especially if it’s a family member or friend, there are other things you can consider than encouraging religious beliefs,” said Briony Swire-Thompson, a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University Network Science Institute. said. “Maybe you want to give the correction in a friendly way, just because no one wants to be wrong.”
But this is not always the case – how you express a fact check depends on the person you are correcting. Preliminary research by Vraga, Leticia Bode of Georgetown University and Melissa Tully of the University of Iowa suggests that corrections are good for changing misperceptions, regardless of their tone.
“If you correct someone, the correction works just as well if it is uncivilized or neutral,” Vraga said. ‘You can use the language that you think is most appropriate. Maybe a funny tone is appropriate for that relationship. ‘
No matter how you talk to the person you are correcting, experts agree that compassion is the key. Try saying things like “I was confused too” or “I understand why you shared this.”
“You can refute the joke, but acknowledge the validity of the case,” Margolin said.
4. Avoid repeating incorrect information. Say what’s true
While writing your fact check, try to emphasize what is right instead of what is wrong. It works in two ways.
Concentrating on the facts first may be more appealing to the person you are correcting, as they may feel less attacked. Second, research shows that the more people hear a false statement, the more it resonates with them – even if it is presented with a correction.
“The wrong information is the biggest thing we really need to be vigilant about,” Vraga said. “The more we hear something, the more we think it’s true.”
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Instead of repeating the false statement, you can just use a link to refer to it. Or talk about it in vague terms, like “I saw your message about wearing masks.” The goal is to get to your fix as quickly as possible.
“Clarity is definitely one of the main goals,” Swire-Thompson said. “If you make it really wordy and complicated so that no one reads it, or if you bury the affirmative element in a way that people just move past, it can be less effective.”
5. Choose your sources wisely
The backbone of any fact check is the source list. The same goes for corrections on social media.
One study from 2017 found that corrections of incorrect information about the Zika virus were more effective when a source was provided. Fact-checking is even more effective when it comes to expert sources such as the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention or the World Health Organization, which maintains a list of debunked coronavirus myths.
However, experts believe that the type of source you use depends on the person you are correcting. Try to find a credible source that respects the person.
“If you can crack down on incorrect information using Fox News and it’s a Fox News user, you should try to do that,” Vraga said. “Think about who the sources are that they are going to trust. If they are not going to trust the CDC, maybe go to your local health organization.”
Also, do not rely on one link to correct someone. According to experts, two sources are better than one.
“It’s not exactly why this is, but one theory is that it helps people identify relevant information to reconstruct their understanding, rather than just telling them to take specific beliefs out of their knowledge, and that with strange holes left behind, “Margolin said. “Another possibility is that it is more difficult to attack the source when there are many sources.”
If in doubt, try linking to articles from independent fact-checking organizations. They have settled more than 6,000 claims on COVID-19 around the world.
6. Focus on facts, not values
This tip applies when facts are checked by misinformation, whether it has to do with health or politics.
A 2017 study found that when people received a fact check to correct the falsehood, they changed their belief in the claim. This finding is held across party lines. However, the study noted that corrections did not change the voting pattern of people.
In short: fact checking changes specific ideas, not voices – a finding that is reflected by other studies on the effect of corrections.
RELATED: 7 steps to do better fact checking
“In the context of the coronavirus, President Trump is a common subtext,” Margolin said. “If it’s an ongoing struggle with a family member and you want to rectify it, find a way to defuse this point.”
A good way to do this is to go back to tip no. 4: Focus on the facts. Research shows that fact-checking can reduce misconceptions, but it is much more difficult to change the way people think or see the world.
“Frameworks that focus on the falsehood / deceptive nature of just the claim itself, without forcing material major changes, will work better,” Margolin said. ‘Avoid frameworks that make it seem like a battle between you and them for power or reputation. It just makes people more resilient. ”
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