It is hard to escape news about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us have settled into a predictable pattern. We read about COVID-19 in the newspaper, online, and are bombarded with information through social media on Facebook and Twitter. Inevitably, one source contradicts another. Sifting through COVID-19 information has become a daily routine for many Skagitonians.
In a situation where information is rapidly changing, myths, rumors and misinformation can spread like wildfire. You may have heard of the term “infodemic” used to describe an overload of information, which is often false or unverified, about a crisis. Unfortunately, the false information fuels fear and speculation, which makes the crisis worse.
Sometimes rumors may seem harmless and are almost funny. For example, there has been a widespread rumor that 5G cell phone technology is linked to the cause of the coronavirus. Most of us can easily laugh off that conspiracy theory, especially given that COVID-19 has spread in many parts of the world without 5G. However, there have been reports of cell phone towers targeted by arsonists. Almost 80 mobile towers have reportedly been burned down in the United Kingdom alone.
Other rumors are designed to take advantage of people through financial or other scams offering miracle cures, vaccines, or other solutions. For example, a physician in California has been charged by federal prosecutors with mail fraud for selling COVID-19 treatment packs for $3,995 to treat a family of four. The physician reportedly claimed that the “cure” would make a patient immune to the disease for six weeks. Obviously, the cure was not real. But unfortunately, such scams are all too common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent more than 120 warning notices to marketers making false COVID-19 health claims.
Many of these scams are spread via social media. A recent Skagit Health Connection post titled Spammers Scammers & Crooks covered how to protect yourself from criminals exploiting COVID-19. Separating fact from fiction is especially difficult when the source is social media. Information spreads rapidly, and on sites like Twitter, posts can look legitimate, making it difficult to determine whether the post is credible or not. How do you find out if a rumor is fact or fiction?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a Coronavirus Rumor Control Page that has guidelines for preventing the spread of rumors. The site asks us all to:
- Find trusted sources of information
- Share information from trusted sources
- Discourage others from sharing information from unverified sources
FEMA advices that we seek out information from local public health agencies. When you are confronted by alarming national or global news, sometimes it is helpful to learn about what is happening in your own backyard. What is occurring in other parts of the U.S. or the world may be very different than what we are facing in Skagit.
Skagit County Public Health has created a comprehensive website with COVID-19 information that is updated throughout the week. To combat rumors, the site also includes a section called COVID-19 FAQ’s, Myths and Rumors: Answered.
The Skagit County Public Health Department also maintains an active Facebook page and has developed an online video series called Conversations COVID-19. We hope that Skagit County residents will share this information through their social media connections.
Summary of Resources to Separate Fact from Fiction
Want to seek out trusted, verified sources? Look into these options below.
Skagit County Public Health Website:
- Main Novel Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19) Website
- COVID-19 FAQ’s, Myths and Rumors: Answered
- Skagit County Public Health Facebook Page (Like us!)
Skagit Health Connection Blog Posts