COVID-19, the Dangers of Fake News…and How Debating Can Help Us All

We live in a time of fake news – it’s all around us. Whether it’s intended to make us laugh, is fake news by omission / taken out of context, or whether the intention is to deceive us for political reasons or to scam us, there’s no getting away from it.

Frighteningly, with the advancement of ‘Deepfakes’ (simulated videos that look and sound real, but are in fact created by AI), it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t real these days. We really need to keep our wits about us.

So, fake news is nothing new. However, I must admit to being taken aback by the sheer level of fake news being shared during the COVID-19 crisis. Of course, the scammers are out in force trying to take advantage of us, as one might expect, but the number of people being taken in by COVID-19 related fake news stories has astonished me. In most cases, a little fact checking is all that’s required to debunk a fake story, but people are failing to do that. We’ve all been caught out from time to time but social media, in particular, is full of individuals who simply aren’t taking the necessary measures to avoid perpetuating the spread of fake news.

Examples of Fake News During COVID-19:

My personal favourite fake Covid-19 news stories have included the following two, relating to historical figures who supposedly said things that relate to the virus

There is not an ounce of truth in either of these – they’re both completely made up. The Pepys quote coming directly from a parody Twitter account, and the other never actually appearing in any of the writings of Nostradamus. These examples are fairly innocuous, even amusing and entertaining, but when the fake news relates to purported cures / ways of avoiding coronavirus, or warnings with no basis in fact, you risk panic and hysteria, and could potentially put people at risk, so think before hitting ‘share’.

To illustrate this, many of us have received messages that the virus is spreading quickly via petrol pumps, while Public Health England has debunked this as rumour. Similarly, others will have received messages telling us that hot drinks will halt the virus in its tracks, or that holding our breath for ten seconds will demonstrate if we have the virus before it has the chance to do too much damage – these are claims that have also been debunked.

So what does all this have to do with debating?

Well, it’s a timely reminder to all of us that we simply cannot accept things at face value in this day and age. We have to ask questions, be discerning, and look at both sides of the story.

Debating helps us to develop this mindset by forcing us not only to look at both sides of an issue, but also by ensuring that we fact check any evidence we uncover during our research that we intend to use in our argument. It helps us to become critical thinkers, and to develop a healthy scepticism that, once learned, we can’t help but apply to everyday life and the stories around us. Debating also strengthens the ability to form ideas and opinions, and to articulate them in a coherent way. At Noisy Classroom, we work with schools to support this. During the schools shut down we are producing resources to support families at home.  Follow us on Twitter for ways to #KeepKidsTalking during the crisis.

Some of the advantages of using debate are:

  • Improves the ability to form arguments and to use reasoning and evidence
  • Allows the exploration of subject matter in depth and from different perspectives
  • Provides the ability to structure thoughts
  • Provides an engaging, active, enjoyable activity
  • Helps children to hit literacy and citizenship targets
  • Provides speaking and listening opportunities
  • Gives stretch and challenge to all children
  • Increases confidence, self-esteem and articulacy

Here are Noisy Classroom’s top tips for evaluating news:

  1. Read beyond the story – research, research, research
  2. Use non-partisan, credible news sources to check current affairs stories
  3. Use a fact checking website, such as Snopes, to determine the truth in a story
  4. Beware messages demanding that you forward a story / message to everyone you know – that isn’t how genuine news works
  5. Establish the context of photographs used to share news – reverse image searches help with this
  6. Question the bias of the writer – is there a particular political angle? Does the writer have something to gain?
  7. Recognise the difference between misinformation and disinformation

For free resources that will help with identifying fake news relating to COVID-19, visit:




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