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COVID-19 (coronavirus): restrictions are in place nationwide. Get advice to stop the spread 

Dealing with fake health information during the COVID-19 pandemic

Last updated: 25 September 2020 at 4.50pm

Some online content can contain misinformation also known as "fake news". This can be information that is completely false, not fully accurate or not supported by experts.

Health is important to everyone. This is why false or misleading health information is a big problem.

It is really important to question where information has come from. Take your time to check it out against reliable sources of information. This will help you decide if you can trust the advice.

We can help to stop the spread of misinformation by learning how to spot it, not believing it and not sharing it with others.

The problem with fake health information

Fake news about health may give you the wrong advice about how best to manage your health and wellbeing. If you take false information as fact, it may mislead you into making the wrong decisions. It can also cause unnecessary worry and confusion.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it may change your behaviour and attitudes towards:

  • the virus
  • other people
  • how to protect yourself and others

Telephone and internet scams

Some people may use this pandemic to try and get private information from you. This is known as 'phishing'.

You should never give your bank details or PIN to someone over the phone or online.

COVID-19 testing scams

The HSE will never ask you for your bank details or to pay for COVID-19 testing.

Ring HSELive on 1850 24 1850 if you have any concerns or suspicions. You should also contact your local Gardaí.

Why people create fake news

The aim of misinformation and fake news is to influence your views and behaviour.

People who create fake news may wish to:

  • get more visits to a website - known as "click-bait"
  • get private information from users - for example, "phishing scams"
  • counteract accurate information with false information
  • cause panic
  • show popularity by how many people the message reaches

Why people share fake news

Sharing health-related information is normal. We want to prevent the spread of infection and tackle the problem by supporting each other. This is generally done with good intentions.

Sometimes people trust and share information even though it is not trustworthy.

We may do this because:

  • the information is similar to our own beliefs or views
  • there is a sense of urgency to help others, particularly with the elderly or vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • it seems accurate because other similar information and announcements have been shared online

Question where information has come from and take your time to decide if you trust it before sharing it.

How misinformation may appear

Misinformation can be difficult to spot. It can be a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. There can be some information from reliable sources with some from unreliable sources.

Some misinformation messages have contained some accurate information mixed with inaccurate information. For example, accurate information about washing your hands and social distancing measures mixed in with false details about coronavirus or protection measures. This combination makes the piece untrustworthy overall.

Other misinformation messages are completely inaccurate. For example, false information about activities involving the armed forces, government measures other than the official guidance and stories about treatment which are not supported by experts.

Some misinformation messages try to gain your trust by claiming to come from a reliable source. For example, a close friend or family of a member of an Gardaí or the defence forces. This is to try and reassure you that the information is trustworthy and worth sharing.

How to spot and deal with misinformation

The best way to deal with misinformation is to not share messages you don’t trust.

Question the source

Question the source of the information and identify who the author is. Are they trustworthy? If you are not sure, look for more information.

Find other sources of information

Identify other sources of information and compare them to the message and fact check.

Don't share chain messages

Do not share chain messages with health-related information without a trusted source.

Talk to the sender

If you think you have received an inaccurate message, speak with the person who sent it. Highlight that the information might not be accurate. Direct them to the HSE or other official information sources.

Consider the intention of the message

Think about whether there is a financial motive or an attempt to deceive you. It could also just be for the creator's enjoyment - this is known as "trolling".

Speak with friends and family

Speak with your friends and family about social media messages or online discussions. Make sure people close to you are not putting their trust in false information.

Advice for parents

Many young children and adolescents will be reading and hearing the same misinformation.

Talk to them about how to deal with misinformation. Have an open conversation to discuss any concerns they have about coronavirus.

Read the Irish Internet Safety Office resource about news and false information.

Reliable health information sources

Websites where you can find reliable information about coronavirus:

HSE on social media

We are advertising on social media platforms to reach a large audience with our expert validated content about COVID-19.

We are working in partnership with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Users in Ireland are now directed to HSE.ie content when they search for COVID-19 information on those platforms.

For example, if you search for information about COVID-19 on Twitter, you will see 'Know the facts' and a link to our COVID-19 content.

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COVID-19 information - Twitter

Here's how it looks on Facebook and Instagram.

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COVID-19 information - Facebook

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COVID-19 information - Instagram

We continue to publish factual information on all our social channels.

You can get our updates by joining us on:

Beware of criminals pretending to be the World Health Organisation - WHO.int

Content supplied by Dr. Liam Challenor

page last reviewed: 17/04/2020
next review due: 17/04/2023