Currently, targeted lies and also scare tactics are spreading regarding the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic. Nine tips on how to check claims on WhatsApp, Facebook and in the media.
1. if you learn something new about the virus on the net, don’t immediately think that you knew about it before.
Your memory of your previous knowledge is changed in your brain – without you noticing it – by a new claim or message. Often you only think you were right before. Check carefully if you have learned something new about Sars-CoV-2. Write down what you know before you search the net. This will help you avoid the so-called hindsight bias.
2. how our brain processes an assertion also depends on the words used
A sentence like “50 percent of patients die” is received differently than the sentence “50 percent of patients survive”. The words used determine the framework in which our further thought processes take place. So always ask yourself why the author of a message chooses exactly these words. In which direction should you perhaps be influenced or even manipulated in this way? If you are aware of this, avoid the so-called framing error (framing effect).
3. do not look for information that will confirm your views about the virus.
Look for information and arguments that contradict your actual beliefs. Your brain processes information in a highly selective manner – without your being aware of it – so that your individual beliefs are maintained. Therefore, use information from sources that hold different opinions. Avoid opinion-heavy forums or newsgroups, blogs and the like, which in any case only reflect your own thoughts. In this way you avoid the so-called confirmation bias.
4. doubt what you and others believe you know or believe to be right about the virus
People tend to regularly overestimate their own knowledge and ability. If we have no idea about a subject area, we are often not aware of how ignorant we really are. In fact, the less we know, the greater the overestimation of our own abilities. Remember that this also applies to authors and journalists in newspapers and on the net. People may think they are experts only out of complete ignorance. Therefore, consult as many different sources as possible, critically examine the origin of a news item and whether the author has the necessary expertise. In this way you can avoid the so-called Dunning Kruger effect.
5. If event A is followed by event B, people usually unconsciously assume that the two are connected.
Often people even believe that event A caused event B. If, for example, people who are infected with Sars-CoV-2 and who have previously taken a certain painkiller become ill, this may have nothing to do with each other. They were probably already weakened by another disease. So connections are made in the brain that only seem to exist, but actually do not exist at all. Therefore, check critically whether the connections that are made in social media are correct. Can there be other causes for the occurrence of B? In this way you avoid the so-called illusory causality.
6. do not rely on “common sense” when dealing with the Internet and the media.
Every assertion must be supported by evidence and an argumentation must be consistent and conclusive. Examine this critically! You can easily be manipulated if common sense takes a back seat to the emotional effect of an assertion. Gut decisions are prone to a variety of irrational thinking mechanisms. Fear in particular is a strong feeling that people are very strongly guided by. So try to avoid the gut feeling error.
7. people consider events more likely the more available they are in their memory
Availability in memory is unconsciously used as a substitute for missing information. So if the new corona virus is currently the topic of discussion everywhere, we overestimate the probability of becoming infected ourselves. Therefore, check the actual facts and figures, for example with the World Health Organization, the Federal Ministry of Health or the Robert Koch Institute. This will help you avoid the so-called availability error.
8. pay attention to points that are not arguable at all.
Bad reasons are not always easy to recognize, but they influence you without you being aware of it. The most important type of argument is based on if-then statements. You can often check whether there is a conclusive argument for such statements based on the form of the sentences alone. A bad argument, for example, says that a first step will inevitably lead to others: “If we decide A, then B follows from it and C from it and D from it. The mistake is that here a compelling consequence is assumed, although each of the subsequent steps is dependent on further decisions. Likewise, fixed rules apply to arguments that begin with “It applies to all that …” or “There is no …”. Therefore, check critically whether an argument is valid at all. Among other things, you can avoid the slippery slope argument.
9. and very important: do not underestimate the effect of misinformation.
Wrong messages change your memory of events permanently without you noticing it. Through false claims about the virus, memories are distorted and can be far from the facts. Even if an assertion subsequently turns out to be false, the false memory remains and/or leaves a gap in your thinking model. This gap is then often closed by other assumptions, which are often also wrong. You do not become aware of this. Keep in mind that many interest groups deliberately disseminate misinformation. So always ask yourself who has an interest in spreading certain rumors. In this way you avoid the misinformation effect and recognize targeted disinformation.