Right now, we’re all being bombarded with a huge amount of information about the new COVID-19 vaccines. However, in such a hotly debated topic, you should be aware that some of this information you hear or read could be misleading, or just plain false. And when it comes to your health, misleading and false information can be dangerous.
You shouldn’t believe everything you read, so how do you know what to believe? And how can you tell what’s reliable and what’s not? The best approach is to get your information from trusted sources. That way you know the information you get (and share) is helpful, not harmful. But what constitutes a trusted source? Here are eight tips to help you check if what you read or hear is trustworthy.
1. Check the sources
Whenever you encounter something that could have a significant impact on your health, it’s always a good idea to check where the information came from. This will help ensure that it is not false, an assumption, a random thought, or pure speculation.
This doesn’t just apply to news articles – if a friend or family member makes a comment or posts something on social media, ask them where they found that information. Can they direct you to the source? They may have misheard or misunderstood the information, or they may have got it from someone who was deliberately spreading false information.
Credible sources for medical information are clinicians, health departments, public health experts, infectious disease experts, or epidemiologists. It is not your friend’s cousin’s mum’s mate who heard it from someone in a white coat in a Facebook video.
2. Read beyond headlines
Don’t just read the headlines. They are designed to draw your attention, even on reputable news sites. They are often written to be intentionally sensational or provocative to make it more likely that you will click on the article or leave a comment. Read the entire story, to arm yourself with as many facts as possible.
3. Identify the author
Just because someone has written an article, or claims to be top of their field, doesn’t mean they are an expert. So, check out who the author is. A quick Google search will probably show you what other works the author is known for, if they really are an expert and if they are qualified on the topic. If you can’t find much, if they’re unqualified or if their qualifications don’t add up, treat their information with a healthy dose of suspicion.
4. Check the original date of the info
There’s constant improvement in our scientific knowledge, especially when it comes to something like COVID-19. Older information could easily be out of date. So, make sure you work out how old the information is before appraising it.
5. Examine the supporting evidence
Credible information should be backed up with hard (verifiable!) facts. If there’s limited use of stats and relevant evidence supporting the claims, then you have to ask the question: is it trustworthy?
6. Check your biases
We all have different life experiences, backgrounds and points of view. These influences, also known as biases, affect how we process news and information, and how we form opinions. It can be useful to think about whether your existing beliefs or opinions are affecting your judgement on a particular topic.
7. Turn to fact-checkers
Verify your information by consulting trusted organisations that make sure the information they provide is credible, factual and based on evidence.
Here are several sites we recommend for up-to-date, trustworthy vaccination information:
- Queensland Health: COVID-19 vaccine
- The Australian Government Department of Health
- National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance
- Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
- Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI)
- Australian Academy of Science
- World Health Organisation (WHO)
Lastly, if you read or watch something on social media that you think is either misleading or false, then report it directly to the platform. You can do that through the links below:
So, what next?
These tips are a great starting point for navigating through fake news and finding information that you can trust. But please remember, when it comes to medical advice, it’s best to use information provided by medical professionals, not the Internet.