From the beginning of the pandemic, disinformation has spread along with the virus, in some cases, perhaps even faster than COVID-19 itself. From the ostensibly "medical" advice, to the various conspiracy theories we have seen and read this year, it seems that we have seen it all. Now, the misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has entered another phase.

Now, that the anti-COVID-19 vaccine has been rolled out and different countries are starting to use it, mainly on social media, but also on other media, various misinformation is being spread out at an alarming pace, with a concrete aim of building the "anti-vaccine" narrative within societies.

In the second year of the pandemic, and perhaps more than ever before, we must be vigilant and careful about the information sources we use, and this is especially relevant in the case of social media. It is crucial to maintain a critical attitude towards any content, in order to remove doubts only after the thorough verification efforts become a crucial step and are thoroughly exhausted.

Media giants - together in the fight against disinformation

On December 8, in the United Kingdom, an elderly woman became the first person in the world to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Finally, tech and information giants have also come together to fight vaccine disinformation. In addition to traditional media outlets such as the BBC, Washington Post, Financial Times, Reuters, Associated Press, and Agence France Presse, the engagement of the the "new" media e.g. Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter has become more prominent. All in all, this is hopeful, but it is not enough to stop the disinformation, and this has been proven by previous attempts. For instance, Facebook said it would delete posts containing vaccine misinformation, however, anti-vaccine groups have already taken root there, and it seems, they are here to stay. Harvard University's Niemen Lab highlights how the anti-vaccine groups have grown their virtual network to 8 million new followers in the first six months of 2020. First Draft, in a study published in November, found that 84% of vaccine misinformation interactivity comes from Facebook and Instagram.

Anti-vaccine disinformation: Three questions to ask yourself

Since April 2020, I have managed to establish and present a method that best suits the dynamics created by the circulation of COVID-19 disinformation and responds to the ongoing disinformation about it.

So, before we start believing any information we are exposed to, we must ask ourselves these three basic questions. The first question is who is the author and whether he is credible? Behind every published information lies an author and it is very important to understand who he is and whether he has any credibility in a society. Due to the relevance of the news, you always find important information in more than one media, so it is important to look for the same news in another media outlet -This is the second question. With this in mind, just by reading the same information but coming from different sources, we also broaden the horizon of the information we receive, as well as a get access to a more complete context. The third question we need to ask ourselves is about the supporting sources on which the information is built. Are they official sources? What are the resources behind them? Does the information, in addition, provide photos, videos, or any other facts from the context of the news?

If we manage to answer these three questions when encountering new information, then the questions about veracity of the information begin to gradually lead us towards required answers and the red flags we learn to spot, will help us eliminate the dilemmas. To sum up, only in verified information can we find the required answers. With these three questions in mind, we should be able to learn how to more consciously and critically assess information in the media, thus being able to distil the truth.

Author: Dren Gerguri - Lecturer, University of Prishtina "Hasan Prishtina"/Kosovo

Background illustration: Photo by myskin from Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock license