The Unfortunate Reality of Misinformation
It seems COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is all we’re talking about at the moment. The world is in the grip of a global pandemic and people are anxious; for themselves and the people they care about. We’re all developing ways to cope and adjust to our new normal, and we want clear and trustworthy information so we can stay safe.
I lead the online community team at Alzheimer’s Society. We’re a non-profit in the UK and our role is to support and inform people with dementia, their families and friends. Coronavirus has had a huge impact on our organisation, and now more than ever, people need support and information from a place they can trust.
Last month we saw a huge increase in people joining and using Talking Point, the online community I manage. People were unsure how to cope with Coronavirus and started to share information that they felt was good advice. Unfortunately not all of the information was reliable or true.
In the unfortunate age of fake news, misinformation is appearing in lots of places including health communities. Our online community supports people with dementia who might struggle to process information, as well as older carers who might be more likely to automatically accept information posted online.
I knew I had to act fast to handle misinformation, and I identified a clear framework to follow which has helped my team and my community to identify and remove misinformation from the community.
When researching how to handle misinformation, I came across a great article on Medium by Will Oremus which included a simple four step process for identifying misinformation.
The SIFT process was created by Washington State University digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield who has been working on the most effective way to teach students to navigate online information and misinformation. SIFT has four parts:
Don’t automatically accept the information until you’ve checked it out.
Investigate the source
Take a look at who is saying this and why you should trust them.
Find better coverage
Use a search engine to find if this information appears in other places, like national or specialist news, or official government websites.
Trace back to the original context
Check if the person or organisation actually said this and if you can find the original source elsewhere.
A fact-checking process like SIFT is familiar to people working in journalism and information management. The problem is that people are now consuming information and news from multiple sources, including social media and online communities.
Social media companies and online community teams aren’t able to physically read or moderate each piece of content posted, and this poses a challenge in tackling misinformation, particularly information that could put people at risk of getting an illness like Coronavirus.
SIFT in Practice
I shared the SIFT model with my online community team and it’s helped us to take a harder line on handling anything where the source is unknown, or the advice contradicts the official guidance.
A short while later, I shared the SIFT model with our online community members and it has been well received. By sharing fact-checking skills with our community, we can limit the misinformation they believe and help them think before sharing.
If you aren’t sure how to handle misinformation in your community, try the SIFT model! Give your whole community the skills to tackle fake news and keep your community a source of reliable information.