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COVID-19: Countering social media disinformation – Dayton Daily News

In the wake of an international crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, avoiding fake news and consuming information from legitimate, trusted sources is vitally important. Today, bad-acting organizations with ulterior motives and misinformed individuals can easily spread disinformation at lightning speed and with potentially serious impact through social media.

The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base community is being encouraged to refer to official sources as noted by Col. Thomas Sherman, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, and the 88th Medical Group.

“Reference the official sources of information from the base commander and medical experts – the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base website at https://www.wpafb.af.mil/coronavirus/ is a great example,” said 2nd Lt. Wyatt Chen, 88th Communications Squadron cyber intelligence analyst.

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He also referred to the City of Dayton’s coronavirus-related information website at https://www.phdmc.org/coronavirus-updates and the Dayton Daily News at https://www.daytondailynews.com/ . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/ and the Federal Emergency Management Agency at https://www.fema.gov/ or https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/ are other trusted starting points, he said.

“Those sources feature information from known experts – scientists and physicians who are able to provide accurate, up-to-date details as they face this contagion,” Chen said. “As they treat patients and determine the best ways to stop the spread, they post that information.”

Officially published sites have the credibility of experts, he said.

“Anything else you find on sources like Facebook or Twitter may not necessarily have been vetted by official sources,” Chen said. “Anecdotes and hearsay may not have been backed by evidence or factual information, and they can lead you down paths where you don’t have the correct information to properly deal with the situation.”

Fake news disseminated through social media, often anonymously, can blur the line between fact and opinion, and overwhelm people’s sense of which information is right and wrong, he continued.

“Avoid fake news and look at the specific information and determine whether it’s written in such a way to create distrust of news sources and experts to create chaos and confusion,” Chen said.

There are three things to keep in mind, he offered:

• What are the views of the individual posting the information?

• What is his or her credibility – are they an expert in their field?

• What are the facts and statistics presented? Are they obtained from trusted sources?

Chen recommends taking a look at the account and profile of whoever is posting. If an account is posting hundreds of times within a short timeframe, it could be automated to spread malicious information to cause panic and disorder. If the account uses a very simple username or its posts are filled with spelling and grammatical errors, those could be other clues to its illegitimacy.

“Be especially vigilant about news information you consume and make sure it’s from legitimate sources so you can fact-check as you go,” he said. “That way you won’t have to rely on others to help correct or give you legitimate information.”

During this challenging time, it is easy to get overwhelmed by consuming information.

“So many people rely on social media for so many things in their lives, but there can be a balance,” said 2nd Lt. Kyle McReynolds, officer in charge, 88 CS Cyber Intelligence Analysis Cell. “Use social media wisely. You can get the right information and avoid misinformation while also still communicating with your family and friends. How you use this tool is important.”

Use of social media does have a disadvantage, he cautioned.

“This is a prime time where threat actors and malicious users are taking advantage of the fear around this pandemic,” McReynolds added. “Users are concerned and they’re going to click on links as they seek more information. Hackers, malicious actors and adversaries are looking for opportunities.

“Don’t click on links that don’t look legitimate and don’t click on links from non-trusted sources,” he said.

Kristen Van Wert of the 88th Medical Group said misusing social media to obtain health-related information can lead to stress and anxiety.

“Perhaps you have read a statistic somewhere that concerns you. Take it day by day and make sure you are getting information from the correct sources,” she said. “Otherwise you could be causing yourself and your family undue stress.”

Having a centralized, consistent data source is a best practice, Van Wert advised.

For health issues, contact your primary care provider and team before attempting any kind of medication or treatment, she said.

“Everything the 88th Medical Group is doing is to keep our patients safe and mitigate exposure,” Van Wert said. “Please be patient with your care team. Our goal is to have a positive impact on your health.”

The 88th Medical Group, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, recommends the following sources, in addition to the Wright-Patt website at https://www.wpafb.af.mil/coronavirus/ , for COVID-19 information:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/

• Ohio Department of Health, https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/home

• Greater Dayton Area Health Association, http://gdaha.org/

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