Editor's Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
Have you heard about taking a hot bath to kill the virus? Not only does it not work, but the World Health Organization is warning the public that people could scald themselves trying it. Then there’s the claim that the antimalarial chloroquine is a miracle drug. While the jury is still out on its efficacy, chloroquine is also potentially very dangerous, having recently killed a man in Arizona who drank it after hearing President Donald Trump call it “a tremendous breakthrough.”
The world has faced, and overcome, pandemics before. We’ve never faced one in this information climate. This is, as the World Health Organization declared in February, an infodemic: “an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
CONSIDER THE SOURCE, AND CONSIDER THE SOURCE’S SOURCE. Both of these steps help guard against disinformation (the intentional spread of false information), as well as misinformation (the unintentional, inadvertent spread of false information). Regardless of whether the message came from your immediate network (a family member, friend, or neighbor) or the greater information ecosystem (a celebrity, a public official, or the president of the United States), take the time to examine it before passing it on or accepting it as fact. Check it against trusted authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and ask yourself: Is the person telling me this trying to exploit my fear? Is their intention to help, or do they have other motivations? And even if you think their heart is in the right place, are you sure that their information is coming from sources that have a track record of honesty, are careful about getting the facts right, and put science ahead of politics?