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CORONAVIRUS: where to get trustworthy information

Check It!

On March 11, the World Health Organization’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Gherbreyesus, officially declared that Covid 19 is a global pandemic, with more than 118,000 cases certified, in more than 110 countries and territories all over the world. We wanted to do our part to help guide you to information sources that will be useful as the entire world weathers this outbreak, and help you protect yourself from malefactors who may use this crisis to profit at your expense.

“Flattening The Curve”
All over the world, large public gatherings and sporting events are being limited to essential personnel, postponed, canceled, or rescheduled — and health experts are emphasizing the need for people to do whatever they can to reduce the potential strain of an uncontrolled outbreak on healthcare resources. Experts warn that the death toll for Covid 19 will be much worse if the infection rate overwhelms global, national, or local resources for care: hospital beds, healthcare personnel, and medical equipment and supplies. The idea of taking every reasonable precaution to reduce infection risk, and thereby flatten the demand curve, is perhaps the most important message to understand on the global & collective level. 

On an individual level, experts are advising everyone to do their best to maintain “social distance,” and counseling those who feel ill or those who are at-risk due to age or pre-existing vulnerabilities, to “shelter-at-home” whenever possible. 

Widely shared chart from Biology Professor Carl T Bergstrom, University of Washington, visualizing the need to flatten the demand curve for the impacts of Covid 19 on global (and local) healthcare system resources.

Good Sources of Information
At Psafe, our expertise on viruses is limited to those that infect digital machines. We’re also vigilant about invasions of privacy, scams, and people and organizations who use technology to profit for themselves by harming others.  As such, we understand that our role in this crisis is to provide you with digital protection, and with good information. We also wanted to offer a reminder to use good judgment about the sources you consult online to get information about coronavirus. 

Three excellent resources we recommend are:
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
The UK’s National Health Service
– The WHO (World Health Organization) 

The WHO has also published an excellent resource online to fight misinformation: a myth-busting page specifically focused on Covid 19.

Of course there are many other great sites as well. Many resourceful and well-intentioned people have stepped forward to provide others with helpful information online. This coronavirus data site, created by student Avi Schiffman in Washington, USA, is one such example.

But given the scale of this crisis, we are already seeing many scammers and malefactors who are using this moment to spread disinformation, seeking profit for themselves, and harming others.

Fake News: During Crisis, More Damaging Than Ever
“According to Emilio Simoni, director of dfndr lab — a laboratory specializing in digital security at PSafe — fake news tend to have two objectives: financial profit, with the advertisements conveyed in the fake news itself; or, the manipulation of public opinion — very common, for example, in electoral periods. “In an environment where thousands of pieces of information are shared per minute, it becomes crucial to differentiate what is true and what is not.”

Simoni explains that this ability is not evenly distributed across large populations:  “The portion of the population that has no proximity to the new digital culture and new technologies, becomes more vulnerable to fake news, especially when they address alarming issues. However, everyone, regardless of age, sex or education level, is susceptible to influence from fake news, which is why citizens, at times like this, need to share knowledge about these malicious practices on the internet, to protect themselves against misinformation.”

How To Spot, And Discourage The Spread of Bad Information
Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are working to limit or label misinformation when they see it, but the very nature of those platforms makes it difficult for them to catch every sketchy source or misleading story. Sensational plot-lines, suggesting that the virus was “human-made in a lab” or that you can protect yourself by ingesting silver or bleach, are (predictably) starting to make the rounds, and of course many of these sensational stories have the same kind of viral resilience of Covid 19 itself.

The myth busting site listed above is a great place to start to protect yourself against this misinformation, and it will be useful to continually refer-to as these stories multiply and mutate.  Consider helping your friends who post bad information by sending them a helpful PM, or, simply post the debunking information in their threads — as long as you feel secure doing so.

As Simoni suggested, the other main tell is to look with great skepticism at anyone who 1) Is selling you something, whether information or a cure of some kind, or 2) Some who is asking you for private information.

One of the great difficulties with viruses like Covid 19 is their ability to adapt and reshape themselves. The same can be said of scammers and con-artists — but scammers have some very reliable patterns you can learn to recognize and protect yourself. Whatever form their scams take, they always seem to WANT:

Your attention, (right now, no matter what)!

Your sympathy, or vote

Your trust

Your information

Your money

…And this is key too:  They’ll often use whatever information they can acquire about you publicly (or deviously) to make you feel like they know you already.

If you are involved in an interaction online with a stranger or someone new to you that has one or more of these markers, be on your guard.

We’ll Do Our Best To Help
If we become aware of specific threats or scams that threaten our customers, we’ll do our very best to keep you informed. For now, we want to thank you for taking the time to read this post, and wish you and yours the best as we all work together to take on this epidemic. Stay on guard, and stay in tune with the best sources of information you can find!