On misleading headlines and coronavirus: check before sharing

Escalating discussions about new coronavirus cases and certain restrictions imposed in the country led to an unprecedented surge in news items related to coronavirus. On 17 March, the share of such news items comprised nearly 60 per cent of the total number of publications in Lithuania’s traditional media outlets, Mediaskopas wrote in a press release.

Milda Žarnauskaitė, Analyst at Mediaskopas, a company providing media monitoring and analysis services, argues that responsible news consumption is a necessity in the light of such an extensive flow of information.

Unfortunately, quite a few consumers interact with news stories in a superficial manner and read-only article headlines. According to one study, an average user only clicks 7 per cent of the political news stories available in his/her feed. The analyst advises avoiding sharing resonant news stories on social networks without having read them, as there are cases where provocative headlines do not fully match the content of publications.

For instance, one headline declared that people, infected with the novel virus, are losing their consciousness and merely falling on the streets of China. However, upon clicking on the link, an editorial statement was found in the first paragraph of the article, pointing out that the reliability of the images on which the article was based cannot be guaranteed as they came from Twitter users.

Fake articles

Yet another headline stated that Lithuanians were “attacking” pharmacies because of the fatal coronavirus infection. After reading the article, it turned out that it did not contain any information related to the virus. It simply overviewed the sales results of certain pharmacies, pointing out that the sales of cold medicines edged down and those of fish oil upped.

According to Žarnauskaitė, the most unexpected discovery was the headline referring to disturbing images coming from the coronavirus-infected areas, families’ cries for help and bars mounted on home doors. Having read the news item, it became clear that it simply announced that many residents were forced to shift to remote work and cities’ streets were empty.

“Obviously, ‘blind’ information consumption and dissemination may lead to limited or biased perceptions of the situation. It is important to examine the information provided, read the publications from start to finish, check the accuracy of sources and the validity of claims as well as to follow official information provided by authorities responsible. Deeper awareness leaves no room for inaccurate perceptions of the situation,” Žarnauskaitė elaborates.

Mediaskopas is part of the leading media monitoring, analysis, data transfer and consultancy group BMMG. The company services local and foreign clients, including government institutions, other public organisations and business establishments.

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