The COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly, but were created from decades of solid, peer-reviewed and widely accepted scientific research. Their rapid development, however, has led to many theories circulated online with varying levels of plausibility. This is the type of environment that is ripe for conspiracy theories to spread, as many start with a plausible scenario that is twisted into an outrageous idea. Many conspiracy theories require extra work to determine their accuracy.
Once you have encountered a news story or social media post that you suspect may not be accurate or may have been deliberately shared to misinform, the next step is to investigate the source. This applies both to the publisher (i.e. the website or media organization publishing this story) as well as the author and/or individuals within the source that are making the claims. It is important to go beyond the story or publisher itself to investigate any known biases of the publisher/author/source as well as their experience as it relates to the topic being discussed. This should be done by opening a new tab in the browser and searching the web for information on the publishing organization/website, author, and/or interviewed sources. You may also want to search for what types of news stories and claims these sources have shared in the past. Have they been known to share inaccurate information? If it appears the publisher or author have well known biases, or have been known to share fake news stories in the past, you'll need to dig a little deeper to ensure the information is accurate.
In addition to the source, you can also check specific stories on various fact-checking sites like Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, and Politifact. These sites do not have an overt political bias and are helpful in examining the truth of various claims and theories on the web. While all three of the above sites examine claims made by politicians, Snopes will also examine non-political stories circulating on the internet.
If you want to do a deep dive, check out Sifting Through the Coronavirus Pandemic from digital information literacy expert Mike Caulfield. We'll be following Caulfield's 4-move SIFT methodology throughout the challenge. This week, we're focusing on Stop and Investigate the Source.
Need more help with identifying "fake news"? The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) has a resource available in multiple languages here.