The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is by far the biggest global event to happen in our lifetimes. The media is pumping out oceans of information about it on an hourly basis, and our social platforms are saturated with content competing for clicks.
Some of this content is accurate, some is semi-accurate, and some is nonsense. With all this information (and misinformation) being churned together in the giant mixing bowls that are our Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, it can be bewildering to figure out what – and who – to trust.
One way to start separating facts from fiction is to think carefully about the sources this information is coming from, much like you would when researching for an assignment. Can you verify what the source is? What’s the primary agenda of the source? Or put another way, what is the main incentive of the source when creating and disseminating the information? How is the source financed, and what affect (if any) does this have on the information it puts out? Is the source accountable to anyone? In what way is the source qualified to speak on the subject? Is the source informed by opinions, speculation and intuition, or science, data and facts? Does the source use calm, rational language, or is it emotive and alarming?
Consider following organisations and individuals that are established (and ideally apolitical) experts in their fields. Not only will this ensure reliable information appears directly in your newsfeeds, but when you see something you’re dubious about – perhaps something a friend has shared – you can then verify (or disregard) the information by checking if your credible sources say the same thing. Think of them like anchors that stop you drifting away in a stormy sea. A general rule of thumb is that if something seems too amazing, awful or absurd to be true, it almost certainly is.
You could start with the global basics, like the World Health Organisation, and then drill down into specific topics or locations that are particularly relevant to you.
Here are a few to get you started.
World Health Organisation (WHO)
Responsible for international public health, the WHO is an agency of the United Nations and has been highly instrumental in combating various health crises, including smallpox, polio and Ebola.
National Health Service (NHS)
The NHS is the UK’s publicly funded healthcare system, which employs almost 2 million people across all areas of health, and has a budget of over £1b.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC is the USA’s main public health institute, and a major player in helping the country get through the current pandemic.
The Johns Hopkins University
Having emerged as a go-to source for reliable data on the COVID-19 pandemic, Johns Hopkins University is a private research facility that has been tracking the outbreak from the start.
The philanthropic organisation set up by Bill and Melinda Gates works closely with the WHO and similar bodies, and is a major donar to world health initiatives.
UK government (general guidance & travel advice)
For British citizens in the UK, the go-to source of information for anything government related, such as current restrictions and travel advice, is the government itself. This may sound obvious, but keep in mind that people with political agendas will often alter, distort or simply make up information, and put it out in a way that makes it look like the government said it. Always consult the primary source when you can.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
There are a huge number of trusted experts out there, such as scientists, leaders of organisations, and people who work in health, and it’s their advice that drives government policy, such as social distancing. There are far too many to cover comprehensively, but here are a few to give you an idea of the kind of people you could look out for.
England’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Senior writer at STAT (media outlet specialising in health and medicine).
Physician and Executive Director of Ariadne Labs (global leader in health systems innovation).
More accounts to follow
To find more individuals and organisations to follow who specialise in this topic, check out this COVID-19 Twitter list compiled by Johns Hopkins University.