Critical thinking key to media literacy

Information about COVID-19 is everywhere these days but constantly watching social media sites isn’t good for your mental health and will lead to loads of misinformation. In fact, news literacy education consultant Michael Spikes recommends that you “go to a trusted source of information a few times a day and otherwise try and redirect yourself from reaching for your phones every time you get bored.” Some websites that you can rely on are Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Library of Medicine, local public health officials and the John Hopkins map.

Have you heard that spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will kill the new coronavirus?

Do you believe that 5G mobile networks spread COVID-19?

Do you think exposing yourself to the sun or temperatures higher than 77 degrees will prevent COVID-19?

Do you believe that you are free of the disease if you can hold your breath for at least 10 seconds without coughing?

If any of these myths resonate with you, visit the World Health Organization’s Myth Buster website for a reality check.

But what if you land on a site that has information that must be true because Aunt Judy sent it to you and she’s always right? There are tools to help you decipher information. PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of elected officials and others. It debunks specific claims like fake coronavirus cures, false news reports and conspiracy theories. It has developed a guide with seven ways to avoid falling for Aunt Judy’s post. If you have a tip or want them to fact-check something, send an email to truthometer@politifact.com.

Snopes, an internet reference source, has been investigating urban legends, hoaxes and folklore since 1994. It has developed a page dedicated to the novel coronavirus because page mangers felt that an infodemic came along with the pandemic. Snopes has compiled a list of claims that they’ve fact-checked that relate to specific categories of COVID-19. It also recommends that you use the CDC and WHO websites to get the latest information about COVID-19.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions promotes critical thinking as a key skill in media and information literacy. It published the article "How to Spot Fake News" that includes eight simple steps to verify a news article. It recommends that you consider the source, read beyond the headline, check the author, look for the source of information, check the date, ask yourself if it’s a joke, check your own biases and consult with other experts.

The internet trust tool NewsGuard rates more than 4,000 websites that provide 95% of the news and information consumed and shared online in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy and the UK. It has a Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center that lists websites that it has found to be guilty of publishing false information about the virus. You can scroll through the list to see if the news article you just read came from one of them. NewsGuard also reports on the top COVID-19 myths and how they emerged and spread across the internet. Readers are welcome to report news stories at www.newsguardtech.com or by calling its misinformation hotline.

Tina Winstead is director of Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta. Her column appears in the community section of The Daily Star every Tuesday. Her columns may also be found online at www.thedailystar.com/community/library_corner.

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