How To Shut Down Coronavirus Fake News In Your Group Chats


It’s estimated that half of people get their news from social media and in the age of fake news and misinformation, that’s a worrying statistic. Whether it’s a family member scaremongering about a health condition or your mate telling you that they’ve heard some intel on a celebrity death, it can feel like there’s not much you can do to shut down unsubstantiated rumours in your WhatsApp group chat.

It’s such a serious issue that the messaging service announced on March 18 that it will donate $1 million to the International Fact-Checking Network in a bid to stop the spread of misinformation around the growing global COVID-19 outbreak. According to SiliconRepbulic, the programme has been launched in partnership with the World Health Organisation, Unicef and The UN Development Programme.

“I am urging everyone to please stop sharing unverified info on WhatsApp groups,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted on March 16. “These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage. Please get your info from official, trusted sources.”

The good news is that it isn’t just up to social media users to stop the spread of misinformation. Whatsapp is in talks with the NHS to set up a coronavirus chatbot, per The Guardian. The chatbot will aim to give people access to up-to-date information about the virus” and “emoji-laden guidance” about how to stop the spread. The new scheme comes after Whatsapp bosses limited the number of people and groups to whom a single message can be forwarded to. They hoped this would also prevent the spread of fake news. But if your group chats are currently being filled with coronavirus fake news, here's how to shut it down without offending anyone...

Recognise forwarded messages

According to WhatsApp, “Messages with the "Forwarded" label help you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message or if it originally came from someone else. When a message is forwarded from one user to another more than five times, it's indicated with a double arrow icon.”

We all have that one friend or family member who loves to send rumours to the group chat, so it’s important to look out for the above label to know what they’ve written themselves and what has been forwarded. If they send something that looks inauthentic, ask them to stop spreading information like this without checking it first.

Find out where it came from

Rumours on social media can be hard to trace, with every piece of gossip seemingly coming from a friend of someone close to the reported action. More often than not, the information you’re being given is multiple people removed from you, making the source of the story impossible to locate (if they exist at all).

If someone sends you information based on this pattern, ask the person to send it to you who the original source of the info is. If they don’t know, ask them to ask the person who sent it to them. This can help you get closer to the source of the info, but should they feel too embarrassed to ask, will highlight to your sender the dangers of sending info with no proof.


Check against a trusted source

When we imagine internet rumours, it tends to be in the form of a poorly edited picture full of spelling mistakes that you can’t believe anyone would fall for in the first place. But this isn’t always the case and often a piece of ‘news’ or rumour will come through on WhatsApp that seems totally plausible.

Before you pass on or even believe news you’ve been told by a friend over social media, seek to verify it. Head to a trusted UK news organisation such as the BBC or any large broadcaster and see if you can verify the story. Make sure any reports you can find are recent — I’m sure we’ve all seen a story from over a year ago go viral with people thinking it’s current — and is talking about the UK, not another country.

If a story, picture or video has appeared on one of these trusted outlets, it’s much more likely to be accurate. Of course, things can go wrong, but it is the jobs of these publications to verify the information they receive before sharing it and they can get in trouble for sharing fake or doctored news, meaning they’ll have put the time into fact checking.

Big shares don't equate to authenticity

It is easy to equate thousands of likes and shares with a ‘successful’ article or post but it is worth noting that huge engagement numbers do not prove authenticity — just look to the infamous Fyre Festival scandal as the perfect example. With the freedom to post provided by platforms such as Facebook, fake news can perform just as well as legitimate sources — especially posts and pictures that trigger an emotional response. “Misinformation goes viral because it plays on our emotions, so that's a sign that it might not be true,” says BBC News. Frustratingly, the more interaction these posts get, the more likely they will be shared and, with the way social media algorithms work, will most likely be prioritised in news feeds. A BBC News fact-checker has warned against interacting with a suspected fake post, even to dislike it, as it could get bumped up the priority list. “Report it instead,” he urges.

Read beyond the headline

At one point in our lives, we’ve all been guilty of sharing an article based on its headline and not reading the content. You see the headline, have a reaction and either screenshot or send a link to your friends or family, only for them to point out that a quote has been taken out of context and the story doesn’t actually support the headline.

Obviously this is embarrassing, but it's also dangerous. We’re all so rushed for time and want to quickly respond to stories, but this only helps the spread of misinformation. Before you send on an article, give it a read and think: does the headline support the content? Is my friend going to read the whole article? Am I misleading someone if they don’t?

If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.