The longer this pandemic ranges across the globe, the more smart people I see falling into conspiracy traps as they search for answers to what is happening during these frightening times.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 21: A Steward wearing a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 during the AFC Champions League Group F match between Ulsan Hyundai and Shanghai Shenhua at the Education City Stadium on November 21, 2020 in Al-rayyan, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)
DOHA, QATAR – NOVEMBER 21: A Steward wearing a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 during the AFC Champions League Group F match between Ulsan Hyundai and Shanghai Shenhua at the Education City Stadium on November 21, 2020 in Al-rayyan, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)

It can be hard to work out what’s true and what’s just somebody trying to manipulate you, be it for their own gain or simply because doing so fills a hole in their lives.

There are people who think that because they don’t personally know any of the 1.4m who have died that this is all an elaborate smokescreen for who knows what. I know a healthcare worker who lost 14 patients in a month to Covid willing to speak to anyone who thinks this whole thing is an overblown hoax. You might never know someone who is murdered, either, but that doesn’t the murders being reported are fake.

There are thousands of people online sharing their stories of their experiences if you want them.

As for myself, I’m 45 and yet to see flu make a person’s extremities turn black and fall off, but I’ve seen Covid do that and more. This isn’t ‘just flu’, which can be brutal in its own right, and there are answers to most, if not all the questions you have. Just be sure you’re asking the people who actually want you to know the truth as it stands, not as they want it to be.

Read stories from those who are going through this pandemic, not Facebook posts from random news organisations you’ve never heard of. Speak to those people suffering, either from the illness, their loss or on the frontlines. They want to tell you their stories, they need you to hear them so we can make this stop.

Check your sources. Know your sources. Know their motivations and their history, what line do they usually take? Who is the owner? What are their vested interests? Who is the journalist? What is their speciality? Is this fact or opinion? If it’s stated as fact, what are their sources? And repeat. It’s hard to do that with established outlets let alone ‘news’ organisations that spring up overnight and I understand not everybody has the time to do it, but it’s important if you plan to make life or death decisions that you aren’t filling in the gaps with any old crap.

Didn’t you watch Jurassic Park?

The amount of people I see and hear from who won’t trust an established news organisation with a provable track record but won’t shut up about what they read on gettherealtruthnow dot com or some other random, bullshit site (I made that one up but it could be a thing, I don’t know) is growing and that’s a frightening prospect.

Listen to people who work in media about how media works, sure there are bad faith actors but you should be able to trust your friend about their job and that they know what they’re doing, right?

Appreciate that news changes, things are often wrong as events become clearer and we don’t know everything. It’s ok to not know everything. Don’t rush to fill the gaps with fear filled conspiracy nonsense to soothe your anxiety unless you want to be remembered like we remember those who believed the earth really was flat (it isn’t) or that the moon was made of cheese.

As David Brader of the Washington Post said back in 1987, “the process of selecting what the reader reads involves not just objective facts but subjective judgments, personal values and, yes, prejudice. Instead of promising ‘All the News That’s Fit To Print’, I would like to see us say over and over until the point has been made…that the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we heard about in the past 24 hours…distorted despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias by the very process of compression that makes it possible for you to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour. If we labelled the paper accurately then we would immediately add: ‘But it’s the best we could do under the circumstances, and we will be back tomorrow with a corrected updated version…’

Fastest and first does not often equal accurate or complete.

Be wary of those outlets professing to be absolutely correct and who can never admit making mistakes. Reputable outlets will, rather than hide from their errors, draw your attention back to them so they can correct things. Others don’t because, ultimately, they don’t care what you believe because truth is not their goal despite it being the loudest thing they shout about.

Understand how internet rabbit holes work and how what you read will deliver you more of the same, reinforcing that point of view regardless of its accuracy.

And, finally, watch The Social Dilemma – I mean really watch it. If you don’t want to do that, read this instead.

Public health should never be about politics and politics should never play with people’s lives. Keep an open mind, but don’t open it so far your brain falls out.

Cheers.