The Simplest Way to Spot Coronavirus Misinformation on Social Media

A digital literacy expert shares his method

Will Oremus


An image of an X-ray of a human’s lungs, with a closeup on a coronavirus in the lung.

IfIf you were on Twitter Monday, there’s a solid chance you ran across the tweet below, imploring readers not to use hand sanitizer to guard against the coronavirus. In less than a day, it was retweeted nearly 100,000 times and racked up a quarter of a million likes. It was probably seen by millions, and its central message is one that others picked up on and began spreading themselves. It even metastasized to Facebook.

To many people, the tweet rang head-smackingly true. The person behind it self-identified as a scientist; her exasperation seemed genuine and relatable; her point about bacteria being different from viruses would be familiar to anyone who’s been told by a doctor that antibiotics won’t cure their cold or flu.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the tweet was not in fact accurate. Yes, you should wash your hands to prevent the spread of coronavirus — but alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be effective as an alternative, provided they contain at least 60% alcohol. (Most leading brands do.) That’s per the CDC, as well as numerous