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The Mysterious Chronicles of Misinformation: Can You Solve it?

Fact-checking is like channeling your inner Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes in a classic ‘who done it’ mystery.

You have to asses what clues you’re given, research further and put them together to crack the case.

Absolutely nothing is worse than watching a mystery film or reading a mystery novel and left wondering: “who did it?!

Fact-checking gives you satisfaction in knowing the answer to your mystery; it scratches the itch in your brain and lets you have that gratifying ‘aha!’ moment.

Case File 1A has left us with just one lonely clue to go off of— a chart found on social media depicting the supposed time it takes to transmit COVID-19 depending on mask type.

We know two things:

  1. COVID-19 has become a hot topic of conversation within the past two years.
  2. It’s also become a hotspot for misinformation.

You might be quick to call this ‘case closed’—as the chart looks professional enough, but charts featuring statistics are not always what they seem.

We have to keep in mind that literally anyone can stick a bunch of statistics on a graph and spread it through social media.

And something about this graph is rather suspicious.

Where is the source? Where is the date? At what distance are the uninfected person and infected person measured— Is this within 6 feet or farther than 6 feet?

Most statistical graphs I’ve come across have a watermark to indicate the original maker of the graph. (You can do a quick Google search of “covid 19 chart” to see that every graph from a reputable source has a watermark.)

Take this CDC graph for example—there is a watermark in the right hand corner. There is also a time period attached to the chart to give context to the data.

These missing details are certainly suspicious enough to warrant looking deeper.

But why should you care to dig deeper?

Simply because we’re in the middle of a raging infodemic. Meaning, we need to be extra alert when we come across pandemic related information from illegitimate and unknown sources.

As Sherlock Holmes would say— the game is afoot.

1. Following the expertise of Michael Caulfield’s CTRL+F videos, we should use Google Lens to find the source of the image.

This is done by a right click of your mouse.

2. From here, we can see there are two categories titled ‘visual matches’ and ‘pages with matching images’.

There are a lot of matches from Twitter, Facebook and Reddit but we want to stay away from those—mainly because misinformation runs through social media like blood runs through our veins.

The finding that catches my eye is a link from The Wall Street Journal under ‘pages that include matching images’.

3. Clicking on The Wall Street Journal article, we can see the graph in question. (The article will open in a new tab so we can read laterally—or across websites. It’s important to keep these tabs open.)

The orientation of the graph is a little different than the one in our possession. The wording is on the right side instead of underneath and it’s also wider.

But now can see the date in which the results were published and the source.

The plot thickens.

4. Let’s keep a bookmark on the source we’re given—’ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force’— by writing it down. (We’ll look into this more later.) But first, we need to go back to our Google Lens tab.

There was another article from Yahoo that caught my eye which we need to investiagate—titled ‘How Accurate is that COVID mask chart’.

Turns out, it’s a video. Its only a minute and a half long, so we should watch the entire thing.

The reporter states the chart was created in spring of 2021 before vaccines were available. Their expert, Dr. Lisa Maier is a pulmonologist with National Jewish Health. She states the numbers on the graph need to be taken “roughly”.

Interesting.

6. Back to Google Lens, another article from CBS17 looked promising titled Fact Check: Are you reading this COVID mask chart the wrong way?

The doctor who made the graph—Dr. Lisa Brosseau of ACGIH—admits that the data is out of date and should not be set in stone.

She states: “I worry a lot about people taking the numbers and seeing them as sort of a bright line between when you’re safe and when you’re not safe.”

The article goes on to say, “the chart was published in Spring 2021 — before not only the current omicron surge but also the delta wave that came last summer and fall.”

This certainly changes things and further supports the information from the Yahoo article, but we still need to find the original source.

5. Because we didnt see the source ‘ACGIH’ in any of our visual matches or page matches from Google Lens, we need to open a new tab and Google ‘ACGIH covid 19 mask chart’.

6. The first result on the page titled ‘COVID-19 Fact Sheet: Workers Need Respirators’ looks promising, so we should click there.

Sure enough, down the page there is a chart that is eerily similar to ours.

However, visually it is very different.

Although this is the original source, the graph is not only different but the PDF is also not equipped with research and analysis to support its data which is frankly irresponsible.

To take these numbers at face value would also be irresponsible.

Additionally, this graph couldn’t be found through other reputable sources such as The Washington Post, or The New York Times.

The graph in our possession does not necessarily contradict the CDC’s recommendations—which is to use an N95 mask because they offer the highest protection—but that doesn’t mean its reliable.

The ACGIH graph is seemingly out of date since the surge of the Omicron variant and the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

In other words, the data should not be taken verbatim.

The sharing of this ‘ACGIH’ graph may be considered misleading simply because it is out of date and shared as new.

As we all know, the pandemic is an ongoing, evolving event of information.

In consequence, you should always take the time to investigate possible misinformation because it leads to uncovering the mystery and gaining answers—no more ‘what-ifs’ or ‘I don’t knows’.

Fact-checking gives you the satisfaction of simply knowing and at the end of the day, technology makes it so easy for us to do so.

In true form, fact-checking is…

ELEMENTARYMY DEAR WATSON 

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*all backgrounds to screenshots and other headers/images made with Canva

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