AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Rumors and falsehoods have been spreading as the coronavirus pandemic continues. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is trying to knock them down. It's even launched a page on its website dedicated to fight the misinformation. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: No, there is no national quarantine. No, FEMA has not deployed military assets. FEMA has no military assets - those are a couple of the myths FEMA is refuting on its website - nor, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News Saturday, is the National Guard being deployed to major cities.
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CHAD WOLF: It's simply not true. What we see is a lot of disinformation campaigns via text, via social media. So we want to make sure that we refute those, we knock those down. I did that yesterday on Twitter. But a lot of this information is just that - disinformation.
NAYLOR: According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, about half the public - 48% - say they've been exposed to at least some made-up news and information related to the coronavirus. Wolf says it's important people choose their sources of information wisely.
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WOLF: We want to make sure that individuals are getting their information from trusted sources - so those are your state and federal officials. And we're asking them not to spread this type of information around.
NAYLOR: In a sense, it's not surprising that bad information spreads during a crisis, says Gary Webb, chair of the Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science at the University of North Texas.
GARY WEBB: People are just seeking out information. We're searching for answers and trying to kind of muddle our way through all of this ambiguity and uncertainty. And anytime we face a situation like that, there's going to be, you know, kind of an explosion in information. And not all of that is going to be credible and accurate information.
NAYLOR: Webb says part of the reason for the ease with which rumors and bad information spreads is due to social media.
WEBB: It's, for many people, a primary source of information. But at the same time, we know that social media can also be bombarded with inaccurate information.
NAYLOR: Some of the misinformation that spreads in times of crisis is less than harmful. There were rumors claiming sharks were swimming in the streets during Hurricane Florence, perhaps the inspiration for recent false claims that dolphins were spotted frolicking in the canals of Venice because the water was now clean due to the coronavirus-related lack of boat traffic.
It's not clear where much of this material originates, although Trump administration officials have blamed foreign governments. Webb says he doubts that and says instead that inconsistent or mixed messages from government officials at all levels are more to blame.
WEBB: I think this effort on the part of FEMA is really aimed at trying to reduce some of those inconsistencies and also reduce some of the confusion and ambiguity.
NAYLOR: So FEMA advises that you not believe rumors or pass them along and rely on trusted sources of information, including state and local government websites.
Brian Naylor, NPR News.
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