False information about coronavirus

Updated 22 January 2021

To stop the spread of COVID-19 we all need to follow official advice. False information about the pandemic risks lives. 

There is a lot of information online about COVID-19. Along with official communications from government and your local council you may also see news articles, information from vlogs, podcasts and social media posts, and information shared by friends and family on social media or messaging apps. Some of this information is fact and some is not.

On this page

False information can be dangerous

News spreads fast like a virus, especially if it's exciting or controversial.

Be careful what you share as you may cause harm by sharing incorrect or deliberately misleading information.

Misinformation is false or inaccurate information, and even if unintentionally false can be dangerous.

Disinformation is deliberately misleading and serves a specific agenda - one which you may not even agree with.

Help stop the spread of false information

Just as we can protect against COVID-19 with hand washing, physical distancing and wearing face coverings, we can slow down the spread of misinformation and disinformation by practising 'information hygiene'.

Think before sharing something, ask yourself:

  • how does this make me feel?
  • why am I sharing this?
  • how do I know if it's true?
  • where did it come from?
  • whose agenda might I be supporting by sharing it?

If you know something is false, or if it makes you angry, don't be tempted to share to it to debunk it or make fun of it. This spreads the misinformation or disinformation further.

Help to stop the spread. If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the hosting social media platform.

Use the SHARE checklist

The SHARE checklist helps you spot false information and protect yourself and your friends from spreading harmful content:

  • source, make sure information comes from a trusted source
  • headline, always read beyond the headline
  • analyse, check the facts
  • retouched, does the image or video look as though it has been doctored?
  • error, look out for bad grammar and spelling

Play the Go Viral! game

Go Viral! is a 5-7 minute game that helps you learn to spot and avoid being taken in by false news, developed by the University of Cambridge.

It's a simple guide to common techniques: using emotionally charged language to stoke outrage and fear, deploying fake experts to sow doubt, and mining conspiracies for social media likes.

Coronavirus scams and fraud

Criminals are using the pandemic as a way to target the public by tricking them to hand over cash, click on malicious links in emails or reveal financial details.  

Fraudulent sellers are attempting to swindle people with PPE, goods that never arrive, and even offering vaccines.

Scammers are sending convincing looking text messages and phoning people pretending to be from the NHS or local pharmacy about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

You can check whether the message is legitimate.

The NHS will:

  • never ask for payment as the vaccine is free
  • never ask for your bank details
  • never arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine
  • never ask you to prove your identity by sending copies of personal documents such as your passport.

Protect yourself from scams

Don't click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

If you're buying online, first check it's a reputable company, and use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.

If you receive a call you believe to be fraudulent, hang up. If you are suspicious about an email you have received, forward it to report@phishing.gov.uk

If you receive a suspicious text message, forwarded it free of charge to the number 7726.

If you believe you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft, you should report it on Action Fraud's website or by calling 0300 123 2040.

If you have any information relating to vaccine fraud you can report anonymously on the Crimestoppers website or by calling 0800 587 5030.

Where to find reliable information on COVID-19

However, everyone can help to stop the spread. If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the hosting social media platform.

Council service information

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