Every day, we encounter so much information about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines, and public health guidelines. Unfortunately, sometimes this information is conflicting or simply false. How can we sort through the headlines and find high-quality, accurate information from trusted sources?
We have to use our H.E.A.D.S.!
To use our H.E.A.D.S., check the following:
Headlines…. Evidence…. Author…. Date…. Source
Read on and use these simple tips to decide whether new information is from a trusted source, especially before sharing with others.
1. Headlines: Read beyond the headlines.
Headlines never tell the full story. They are meant to grab the reader’s attention, and may be intentionally sensational or misleading. Always read through the entire article.
Hearing something for the first time or something that worries you? Look into it more carefully! Check to see if the same information is being independently reported from multiple sources, such as reputable news outlets and trusted health websites or other media. Using multiple, reputable sources, including information from medical and public health professionals, can help. Hearing from a friend? Ask for their sources!
2. Evidence: Examine the supporting evidence.
Credible authors will support their claims with strong evidence and facts that can be verified. This evidence includes experts with a long track record in infectious disease research, such as epidemiologists, public health officials, or medical doctors. Evidence from scientific research is also important, so be sure to ask for sources and be skeptical if none are provided. Become familiar with the major sources of evidence in your country or globally.
3. Author: Look up the author to make sure they are not only real, but credible.
Some social media accounts have already been linked to the spread of falsehoods and misinformation about COVID-19 – including the promotion of harmful practices, as well as inaccurate or false information about vaccines that contradicts scientific consensus.
Be skeptical of information if the author seems to have a financial conflict of interest. What is a financial conflict of interest? If the author, or the information being presented, directs viewers to purchase a product – such as a book or unproven treatment – this could suggest a conflict of interest!
Another aspect that should raise doubt is if the author, or publisher, is anonymous. Reputable authors and publishers don’t try to hide their identity.
4. Date: Check if the information presented is up-to-date and relevant to current events.
Guidelines and recommendations change as more evidence about COVID-19 is generated. It’s important to make sure that the material being presented, including statistics, links, images and claims, is up-to-date and the most current information available.
Check that online sources give the date when the information was posted and last reviewed.
5. Source: Evaluate the source of the information.
Even if the person sharing the information is someone you trust, like a friend or family member, you should check where they got this information.
Does the information come from a respected health authority? If the information comes from a website you don’t recognize, look for the contact information to determine if the site creator is legitimate and credible. If the information is posted by a social media account, check how long the profile has been active, as well as the number of friends, or followers, they have. Try to find the information posted on a reputable news site to find out more.
You can also check the web address to identify the publisher. Websites from governments or universities will have specific web domains like “.gov” for sites from the US government. Additionally, websites hosted by the World Health Organization – an agency of the United Nations with broad expertise in public health – are regularly updated with trusted, evidence-based information about COVID-19.
Finally, some websites post fiction or satire, so if an article seems too outrageous, check the source to find out if it this is the case.
We should all follow these tips and use our H.E.A.D.S. before we believe or share information about COVID-19 vaccines!
Information adapted from the World Health Organization’s “Let’s flatten the infodemic curve”.