Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fake news and misinformation

Information, images and videos posted online can be untrue or misleading, so check the facts before sharing them.

Sometimes stories, scenes and sounds are completely made up or altered so they seem real.

How can I tell if information is true?

Look out for content that seems very one-sided.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it from a trustworthy source, known for being honest about information?
  • Does the headline match the content?
  • Are different views included, to give the content balance?
  • Do the quotes make sense and match the rest of the story, or do they seem to be missing the wider context?
  • Does the content seem to be unbelievable or ‘too good to be true’?
  • Is there enough evidence and reasoning in the story to justify the claims or conclusion?

How can I tell if photos and videos are real?

Check if what you see is real or fake.

  • Does the photo look real, or could it have been 'photoshopped' or altered using an app or software?
  • Does the photo have blurring, cropped effects or pixilation (small box-like shapes), particularly around the mouth, eyes and neck?
  • If a person is shown, is their skin all the same colour and texture?
  • Does the video have glitches, sections of lower quality, or changes in the lighting or background? 
  • Does the video have badly synced (mismatching) sound?
  • Is there irregular or random blinking or any movement that seems unnatural?
  • Are there any gaps in the storyline or speech?

If in doubt, remember to question the context. Ask yourself if it is what you would expect that person to say or do, in that place, at that time.
 

What can I do?

Use critical thinking to question what you read, see and hear.

Here are some tips:

  • Select well-respected information outlets to find out news, such as major national or state media services and government websites.
  • Think about other points of view when reading information.
  • Double check information by doing your own web searches.
  • Do a reverse image search to help you decide if a news photo (or profile picture) is fake you may find it elsewhere online with a different name or description. You can use Bing, Google Images or another reverse image search site such as TinEye.
  • Think about whether an attention-grabbing headline is ‘clickbait’. This is a link that takes you to information that is misleading or not as interesting as it seemed in the headline. Usually clickbait is designed to show you a page with lots of advertising.
  • Watch out for scams set up to steal your money or personal information.
  • Use a website designed to check facts, such as factcheck.org or snopes.com.
  • Be careful about anyone online who tries to force their own ideas onto you. For example, they may be pressuring you to do things you would not normally do, promoting violent ideas, or trying to convince you to go against your family or friends.  
  • If you can’t ignore someone pressuring or harassing you online, you may be able to use the settings in the app or site or on your device to help mute or hide their comments or messages, unfriend or unfollow them, or report and block them.

REMEMBER: Don’t share information, images or videos that seem fake or misleading.

What to say to children

Help children to understand what they see and hear.  

  • Talk to children about checking the credibility of their sources – eSafety has tips for primary school children in our Kids page How do I know if something is fake and for older children in our Young People page Fake news.
  • Use the simple explanations in the Misinformation glossary to start a conversation about untrue and misleading information.
  • Teach good habits and critical thinking skills, to help children make sense of the information they see and hear.
  • Check the safety, security and privacy settings on children’s devices, games and apps and make sure they are set at an age-appropriate level.
  • Encourage children to think about the motive of the person who wrote or posted the information. Are they trying to influence what people believe? If so, why?
  • Suggest children talk to trusted friends, family and other people in their community to see what they think about a subject.
  • Encourage children to read, watch and listen to positive stories as well as negative ones.
     

Resources for teachers

Keep up to date with eSafety's classroom resources and professional learning modules.

Who can I contact for help?

It's important to identify and understand the impact of misinformation and fake news.

  • Find out how to report false or harmful content on commonly used social media sites and in other apps by checking The eSafety Guide.
  • If a child is concerned about something they read, see or hear encourage them to talk confidentially to Kids Helpline (for ages 5 to 25 years).
  • You can contact a free parenting helpline or one of the other online counselling and support services if you need help.
  • Report scams to Scamwatch.
  • If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call the police on Triple Zero (000).