Factchecking in the time of COVID-19

Screen showing the word facts repeated over and overFactchecking in the time of COVID-19.

We’re experiencing a major historical event: a global pandemic. It has been stressful. It can be challenging to keep up with the flow of accurate and trustworthy information.

Misinformation spreads easily on social media. Political leaders have contradicted each other. There are a wide-variety of institutions and agencies quickly producing information across multiple outlets. You might feel too overwhelmed and a little ill-equipped to identify good quality, accurate information. Here are a few helpful tips and resources.


Newsguard is the name of both a company and the company’s tool for evaluating the trustworthiness of “4,000+ news and information sites.” The evaluations are “written by trained journalists.” You can start using Newsguard for free until July 1st. For a quick preview of what it looks like, see the video below.

The Caulfield web literacy model

Mike Caulfield is an educational technology specialist and an instructional designer who directs blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver. In 2017, he proposed a web literacy model to use when factchecking based on three steps. He suggests that, when confronted with a dubious claim, you do the following, in order:

  1. Check for previous fact-checking work
  2. Go upstream to the source
  3. Read laterally

You may be asking yourself, what the heck does that mean? Check out his article, which includes useful examples. It’s worth the time it will take you to read it.

The International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) “How to spot fake news” steps

Shortly after 2016, IFLA suggested some ways to help you identify false information on the web. The 8 steps it suggests are based on a 2016 article written published by factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. They are:

  1. Consider the source: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  2. Read beyond: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
  3. Check the author: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  4. Supporting sources? Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  5. Check the date: Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
  6. Is it a joke? If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  7. Check your biases: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  8. Ask the experts: Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.*

 Visit the IFLA website for the original post in multiple langauges.

Go directly to the authoritative sources

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are authoritative sources for information about COVID-19. It is quick and easy to simply type a question directly into your google search box and click on the first link that comes up. Quick and easy is not always authoritative. It’s often not. Get in the habit of going straight to the websites of the institutions and agencies most directly responsible for providing authoritative information about COVID-19. Spend some time on their websites and use their internal search boxes if they have them. Be patient, and don’t forget to breathe. Which brings us to another very important tip.

Think before you share

During this global pandemic, we are being rightly asked to do our part to combat the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing. Another important thing we can practice is sharing only accurate and authoritative information on our social media and elsewhere. It’s super easy to share something without reading more than a headline, and we’re probably all guilty of doing that to a greater or lesser degree. Try not to! Before you share something online, make sure you’ve taken the time and effort to evaluate its content for accuracy. If you’ve made it this far in this blogpost, you’ve learned a few tips on how to do that. We know you’ll do your part.

Don’t stigmatize

Our library director, Kristin Shelley, wrote the following on behalf of all our staff: “It's vital to remember that COVID-19 is not connected to any race, ethnicity or nationality. Stigma and bias will not help fight this illness. Sharing accurate information from trusted sources is critical to reducing misinformation. You can find reliable and current information about this pandemic from local, state, and national agencies on our website.”

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Also consider who you might know that is an expert in the topic covered. Run it by them! East Lansing is filled with experts on a wide variety of topics, thanks to Michigan State University.