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Evaluating Media in the Age of Fake News: COVID-19: Fake news everywhere

A guide to figuring out the reliability of news and media content

COVID-19: Where to go

Where do I go for solid information about COVID-19?

Here are some good sources to check for updated, reliable information:


Global information:

Medical information:

I need to do something!


Infographic on getting tested

Infographic: If you experience fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, call your doctor or urgent care for instructions.

Information updated 1/24/22.

Figuring out a fake letter

hands with virus image superimposedWith so many people worried about the coronavirus COVID-19, social media is inundated with advice on how to clean surfaces and check for illness, or descriptions of how the virus works.  The trouble is, a lot of the "information" isn't information at all; it's misleading, only partially correct, or just plain wrong.  We just saw this email making the rounds -- click on the link to see a  copy.  It's a document that claims to be "Stanford Notes on Coronavirus" and has a link at the top:    That is a legitimate link that really is full of good information from Stanford, but the body text that follows  is completely different

We did a little research, and found that this document is in fact two viral posts that have been slightly edited, put together into one, and then labeled with the "Stanford" name.  Some fact-checkers have already debunked the information:

We encourage you to read those articles for a detailed analysis, but let's do a short look at some hints that this document is not reliable and not from Stanford doctors.

  • The text is not professionally written.  Punctuation is missing, the language is odd, and it contains grammatical errors:
    • "serious excellent advice by Japanese doctors"
    • "can't emphasis enough"
    • "wash your hands...with bacterial soap"
  • The text contains phrases that medical doctors would not say in a public health notice.
    • "May the world recover from this Coronavirus soon."
    • "It hates the Sun."
  • Some of the advice/information makes no sense, even if you don't have any scientific or medical knowledge.
    • "This new virus is not heat resistant and will be killed by a temperature of ...about 77 degrees F.  [Then it couldn't survive in the human body, or on a warm day.]
    • "Try not to drink liquids with ice."  [What?]

The medical advice contained in this document is not accurate.  It claims:

  • That if you are sick, your lungs will have "fibrosis."  [Fibrosis is scar tissue; the danger with COVID-19 is pneumonia.  Some patients who recover do have scarring in the lungs, but it's not an indicative symptom of the illness.]
  • That being able to take a deep breath and hold it for ten seconds is an indication that all is well. [Not at all correct.]
  • That drinking water constantly will wash the virus into your stomach, where acid will kill it.  [Nope.]
  • That it is a dry cough.  [Maybe -- maybe not.]
  • That the virus can only stay alive on your hands for 5-10 minutes.  [No.]
  • And plenty of other claims!

Don't fall for these tactics; check into the information you see circulating around.

virus with masked girl

Fake COVID news!

There has been a constant stream of misinformation about the coronavirus. We all want answers, but real, solid scientific knowledge takes a while and is complex. Recommendations from experts have evolved over time as there have been new developments, but that also confuses people. And so, rumor, snake-oil, and conspiracy theories have rushed to fill the gap as people search for answers that haven't yet appeared.  

Image of globe in shape of Covid virus

The Library is here to help, with resources that will help you distinguish between snake-oil and reality. Try some of the links below.  Especially, phone scams are becoming even more common right now -- if someone calls you and wants money or information, do not respond!  Scammers try to make you panic, because panic stops you from thinking.

The CDC has a page of information to counter rumors, and advice about how to proceed.

New York Times: Pandemic Scams People Are Falling For (NYT is granting free access to articles about COVID, but if you get blocked, go to the Butte County Public Library's e-resources page, scroll to the bottom, and take advantage of their free NYT access!)

FEMA is trying to corral the rumors with their Coronavirus Rumor Control page.

In fact, there are a lot of "rumor control" pages -- even the Department of Defense has one focused on military questions!

In 2020 a cut from a pseudo-documentary titled "Plandemic" went viral all over the internet, as people wondered whether it could contain true information. Even folks who were skeptical shared the video with comments like "What do you think?  Interesting." The film looks very professional, which influences our perceptions of its accuracy, but in fact it's a highly manipulative collection of false statements and innuendo. It employs a common deceptive technique called the Gish Gallop, in which false claims, half-truths, and questions are piled up faster than they can be answered. This overwhelms the watcher and can cause a fearful response -- sometimes even panic. Often it makes people feel that everything they thought they knew must have been lies -- but in fact that is just a natural emotional response to being bombarded.  If you see something that uses this strategy, know that you are being subjected to a hostile, even abusive technique.  

"Plandemic" made a lot of false claims (for example, Dr. Mikowitz was not arrested "for no cause;" she was arrested for theft). Here are some articles, and a video, that address them:

The journal Science fact-checks "Plandemic"

"If You Found That Plandemic Video Convincing, Read This Too"

David Gorski, a surgical oncologist, wrote a debunking article at Science-Based Medicine.

Forbes: Why It's Important to Push Back on "Plandemic" and How To Do It

A video of a doctor talking about "Plandemic":



A lot of people have complained that Youtube and Facebook have taken the video down, calling it censorship and against First Amendment rights. But Facebook and Youtube are not the government; they are private companies that have the right to take down content they deem harmful. While both companies say they try to let debate flow freely, they felt that the video was dangerous because it made claims that wearing masks will "activate" the virus and make people sick.  If you wish to watch the video, it's still easy to find elsewhere.

Why are health conspiracies so popular now? Here are some interesting thoughts about that:

NYT: Let's Clean Up the Toxic Internet

Atlantic: Virus Experts Aren't Getting the Word Out