News literacy in the time of COVID-19 

Misinformation can be found in everyday news stories and headlines; having a firm understanding of news literacy is key to discerning accurate reporting from fake news on the Internet.
Courtesy Eamon Curry

Take the time to read and think 

Fake news about COVID-19 transmission, treatments, and medical breakthroughs are on the rise. And it’s no wonder. The danger of sharing information on social media before examining it increases the likelihood that we will unintentionally believe and share information that is not true.   

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are among the most common platforms for sharing unreliable news stories, shares often motivated by sensational headlines. 

The rise of unreliable news sites, fake news, and the inherent dangers of misinformation are more prevalent now than ever. With the global Coronavirus pandemic in full swing, people have been inundated with new information, and often false or unproven medical advice.  

“It’s not always easy. You have to have a willingness to compare stories, to fact check. And the frustrating thing about it is people often don’t have the time to do these things. They rely on their news sources to do it for them,” said Michael Kircher, Maryland based photojournalist and social media advocate. “The responsibility of journalists in this social media driven age has never been greater.” 

Education and awareness are the tools everyone can use to fight misinformation and debunk biased news sites. News literacy is the term that refers to the knowledge and skill sets used to determine if news is real or fake. Becoming equipped to discern the accuracy and validity of news and information being shared across the internet and social media platforms allows you to know what information you can use, and what information you shouldn’t share. 

While fake news is not new, the rate at which misinformation is being created and consumed is steadily increasing. The culture of sharing posts, articles and websites via social media is more pronounced than ever. In the age of smartphones, tablets and online media, a majority of Americans are getting their news from Facebook, Twitter and related sites rather than going directly to traditional news sources. 

The good news is that the need to identify and stop the spread of false information has gained widespread attention. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Alan Miller, founded The News Literacy Project (NLP) to educate students on the importance of accuracy in news and journalism. Miller saw education as the answer to advocating better news literacy. 

News literacy skills have never been more urgently needed according to the NLP website. 

“News today comes from many directions – often in packaging that is confusing, if not downright contradictory. Even the most sophisticated audiences find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between legitimate news – information gathered in a dispassionate search for truth – and materials that are created to persuade, sell, mislead or exploit,” according to a statement published by the NLP. 

The NLP’s mission reiterates the importance of education in the following affirmation – “News literacy teaches that all information is not created equal. It helps young people use the aspirational standards of quality journalism to determine what they should trust, share and act on.” 

“We all have our biases,” said Kircher. “It’s a matter of how open we are to change our way of thinking. If we’re presented with new evidence contradicting what we once believed, are we willing to accept it? To at least look at it with an open mind?” 

“In spite of all this, we do live in the age of information. Everything you might like to know can be found out easily enough with that amazing tiny computer in your back pocket. It can be frustrating and time consuming, but ultimately people do have the ability to learn the truth,” said Kircher, “The question is do they have the will to learn the truth?” 

How to identify and stop the spread of fake news: 

  • Read articles from trusted news sources such as The New York Times, NPR, Denver Post, The Washington Post, The GuardianThe BBC or your regional newspapers. 
  • Dig deeper: read the full the story before sharing it. 
  • Remember that headlines can be intentionally misleading.  
  • Be aware of overly sensational headlines. 
  • Be aware of websites with an obvious advertising agenda. Fake news is often used to generate website traffic. 
  • Double-check the date for published articles to insure they are current. 
  • Verify author by-lines for reporting and photography to insure credibility. 
  • Cross-reference a story with reliable sources if it seems fake or suspicious. 



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