We are currently in the middle of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is a serious disease which has claimed over 40,000 lives and infected over 800,000 people globally, with no end in sight. While we have seen other pandemics in recent years (Ebola, MERS, SARS, Swine Flu), and have even had pandemics with higher death tolls in the last century (HIV/AIDS, Hing Kong Flu, Asian Flu, Spanish Flu), there’s a marked difference between COVID-19 and other pandemics: information overload.
Everywhere we look, there are stories, articles, shares, forwards. Our social media is flooded.
A simple Google search yields hundreds of news stories.
We are more connected to current events than ever.
Whilst this may seem like an advantage, information overload can lead to feelings of helplessness, despair, anxiety and depression. Negative feelings lead to raised cortisol levels, which impair our immune system response.
Quite literally, the amount of information you take in on a day can affect your health.
It’s important to be able to discern facts from fiction. But how to comb through all of the information out there? Here are my top tips:
Is this a news story or a random share? Information is more likely to be true if it comes from a valid source. Reputable sources in these times are The World Health Organisation, the ECDC, Public Health England. These are all bodies whose sole purpose is collating and interpreting data on a disease to make health policies. Avoid tabloids and news sources which are known to be inflammatory.
Is there only one source reporting what you are seeing? Or are you seeing information that’s different but worded similarly. If something isn’t reported on multiple platforms, chances are it isn’t true.
I’ve seen a lot of forwarding and shares of ‘hundreds dead in the street.’ Others of people being reinfected. COVID-19 is a new disease. This means that treatment options, diagnostic criteria, even health policy have all changed as we have learned more. A lot of information has been updated or even redacted. For example, the case fatality rate was about 17.3% initially, but as we have learned more about the disease, this has decreased to 0.7%. This is a huge drop in fatality, and sharing information from January or even February is no longer relevant based on what we now know.
I have a friend who works for a major media outlet and his favourite phrase is “shock sells.” The media is designed to get you to click, read, engage all based on the headline. Make sure you are reading the full story and using the tips in this article to discern its validity.
In addition to the source, pay attention to the words used. Here’s why: Person A is hospitalised for pneumonia. They meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing. Their test comes back positive. They die of pneumonia. This person died from COVID-19. Person B is hospitalised due to a heart attack. They develop respiratory symptoms, which are common in patients with heart disease, and because they meet the NHS criteria (hospitalisation for any reason and respiratory symptoms), they are tested for COVID-19. They test positive but later die of cardiac arrest. This person died with COVID-19. In other words, COVID-19 was an underlying condition, but not the cause of death. In the U.K., anyone that passes away with coronavirus is documented as a COVID-19 death, regardless of whether or not their death was from coronavirus. This is not the case in every country or even in every state in the US. This is why there’s such a disparity in reporting. Look at any credible U.K. news source and you’ll see reports of people dying after testing positive for or with coronavirus, not from it. This isn’t to downplay those that have lost loved ones but to say that context matters.
If you are considering forwarding on something you received, think about how it will affect others.
Is the information helpful or hopeless?
Does it inspire or does it instigate?
Is it educational or agitating?
Your purpose in sharing should help others, not to make the information overload worse.
We don’t need to believe everything, read everything, forward everything. I’ve seen so many shares and forwards that are not only unverified but untrue. As Muslims, we should be checking and cross-checking what we share. We have a duty to ensure that we are spreading truth and not panic. Let’s all do our bit to get through this difficult time responsibly.
And [they are] those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity. – Qur’an 25:72
(Please note where the author has shared stats and facts through the post and offered the original source. The information in this article was accurate on the 1st of April 2020. Please check the recommended sources for live updates.)
Yani Hernandez Rana is a working mum in The City by day and hippie by night. She is passionate about natural living and platforms that promote thought, reflection and challenging social norms. You can find her on Facebook @hippiemuslimmums or on her blog thehippiemuslim.com