Use these fact-checking tools to debunk COVID-19 hoaxes

We're in the middle of an infodemic. These sites will let you know if your news sources are spreading facts or conspiracy theories


As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, so too has news and information. The situation changes day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute – and public health and political responses have also shifted rapidly.

With so much information circulating, it’s easy for misinformation, hoaxes and conspiracies to spread, both on social media and, sometimes, through poorly sourced media reports. Misinformation experts are referring to this parallel trend as an “infodemic” – with bad info spreading like the pandemic itself. 

When even world leaders like U.S. president Donald Trump and Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro are spreading false information (or in Trump’s favourite parlance, fake news), it can be hard to know which information to trust. The best advice is to check the source of your information, prioritizing the veracity of public health agencies, governmental bodies and trusted media sources over unsourced social media posts, YouTube videos and self-publishing platforms like Medium. It also helps to engage in lateral reading, verifying a piece of information across various sources or reports.

But practising media literacy is almost a job in and of itself. That’s why public health agencies, journalism organizations (like Journalists For Human Rights, which is offering free misinformation workshops for people in media), universities and tech companies have all invested in free, publicly available fact-checking tools. We’ve gathered five of them and given you a sample of their debunked coronavirus claims. 

Infotagion

What is it and who’s behind it?

The name is short for “information contagion,” a nod to the idea that disinformation is spreading like the virus. The goal is to find false and misleading info, mostly in private channels and on social media, get people to send it in and then fact-check it against trusted and official sources, like public health services and the World Health Organization (WHO). It was started by a British team including MP Damian Collins and has a list of supporters from politics, news, tech, design and capital, including Canadian MPs Charlie Angus and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

Available here.

Debunked: COVID-19 is caused by 5G

The 5G conspiracy theory got a dangerous boost from celebrities like Woody Harrelson and M.I.A., but there are no proven links between the new wireless communications technology and the virus. There is no scientific evidence that electrical signals have harmful effects on human immune systems and radio waves do not damage human DNA structures. Wuhan was also not the first place to install 5G, as conspiracy theories often claim – it was piloted first in South Korea and other Chinese cities like Beijing.  

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Google Fact Check Explorer

What is it and who’s behind it?

Google rolled out this search engine for fact checks in 2018 and it’s more useful than ever right now. It’s easily searchable and navigable (it works pretty much the same way a regular Google search does), and is a shortcut to a handful of other trusted fact-checkers. So you can use this to find results from Full Fact (a fact-checking non-profit in the UK), FactCheck.org (from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania), Snopes (which debunks online rumours and myths), PolitiFact (an American politics fact-checker) and more.

Available here.

Debunked: The new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of 26/27 C. It hates the sun.

Google links to a post by Full Fact that says the link between COVID-19 and heat is unconfirmed. The seasonal behaviour of the virus is unconfirmed, though it is being studied. But many countries with reported cases have temperatures higher than 27 C, and the sun is very unlikely to protect you. The information is consistent with a report from Dr. Vittoria Colizza of the French Institute of Medical Research and the WHO’s Myth busters site, which says washing your hands frequently should still be your guiding principle.

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#CoronaVirusFacts Alliance

What is it and who’s behind it?

Led by the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute, this is a collection of more than 100 fact-checkers in 45 countries. It’s the largest collaborative fact-checking project ever (according to Poynter) and has USD $2 million in support from Facebook and WhatsApp, two places where misinformation proliferates. 

Available here.

Debunked: The coronavirus was created in a laboratory and is a biological weapon

You can find a number of similar claims fact-checked in the database, but here’s one linking to Radio-Canada (in French), debunking a video that was watched over 400,000 times on Facebook. The claims do not come from virologists, but conspiracy theorists best known for anti-vaccine theories and a claim that HIV was a biological weapon created by the U.S. government. All of the fact-checking bodies say there’s no evidence that COVID-19 was lab-created and that it most likely originated in nature. 

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COVIDGlobal Misinformation Dashboard

What is it and who’s behind it?

This tool, created by Ryerson University’s School of Management and the Social Media Lab, tracks coronavirus claims (true, false and misleading) and visualizes them. You can set a date range, see the different false claims in boxes that track how often they appear and where to find the fact-checks – great for graph lovers. The project has tracked over 2,000 pieces of misinformation and grouped them into the seven most common categories: fake tests and cures, speculation on the virus’s origin, diminishment of its severity, scams, maligning brands, celebrity rumours and racism. 

Available here.

Debunked: Gargle with warm water, salt or vinegar to remove the coronavirus

The database links to a fact-check from AFP (in Spanish) debunking a widely shared social media theory that the virus remains in the throat for four days before reaching the lungs and can be eliminated by gargling with hot water or other things. This is disputed by every public health organization. Temperature of water has no effect against COVID-19, nor do any of these home remedies. With the dashboard, you can track how the claim has spread.

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WHO Myth busters

What is it and who’s behind it?

A resource page on the website of the World Health Organization, the United Nations’ global health organization, this is probably the most accessible and user-friendly collection of debunked coronavirus myths. It’s designed to give easy-to-find advice for the public. There are even cute graphics that are available to download, meaning you can send them as response to your uncle’s erroneous WhatsApp memes. 

Available here.

Debunked: Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing means you don’t have COVID-19

There are all sorts of ideas like these floating around, that you can do a simple at-home test to find out whether you have the virus. In fact, the only way to confirm for certain whether you do or don’t have it is with a laboratory test. But since those aren’t available to everyone just yet, if you have symptoms you should self-isolate and check with a doctor or TeleHealth Ontario

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