Evaluating Digital Sources During an Epidemic

Evaluating digital sources is an important component of being digitally literate. During an epidemic, this skill can literally mean life or death.

But how do you sift through sources to evaluate them when you are fatigued and stressed out from the information itself?

NSE: Never Stop Evaluating Digital Sources

You must look at the source of the information that you consume. Can you trust everything that the nightly news reports? Can you trust things your friends post on social media?

This exercise is great to template for evaluating digital sources:

  • Who wrote the article/post? Just because they have a title such as doctor, are they really a doctor? Use Google to find out!
  • Who do they quote? Sometimes articles will have great quotes from credible people, but they don’t link to the original source. Google the person’s name and the context of the quote to be sure it hasn’t been taken out of context.
    Extra Credit: Be careful about clicking on highlighted words. Many times these are ads, and the website is making money on every click you make.
  • What is the site’s purpose? Are they sharing information to enforce their point of view? This is important when you are looking at claims. Do they back their claims up with links to original sources like congressional hearings, interviews, and research?
    If you google the claim word-for-word, do other sites agree come to the same conclusion?

Disinformation is Warfare

Here’s is how Miriam Webster defines disinformation:

false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.

Miriam Webster.com

Lea Gabrielle is the Special Envoy & Coordinator for the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center. She testified before the Senate Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development on March 5, 2020 (10 days before this blog post was written, testimony transcript here).

She explained her mission, which is “leading and coordinating the interagency to decisively expose and counter foreign state and non-state disinformation and malign propaganda”. In her testimony, she discussed how China provides misinformation via censoring information:

Beijing attempts to censor the sheer extent of this global public health crisis – from downplaying the number of casualties, limiting criticism of the CCP’s response, and silencing Dr. Li Wenliang’s initial red flags about the deadly outbreak.

From testimony transcript, available here.

She also discussed the disinformation techniques that Russia uses:

These include cyber-enabled disinformation operations; propaganda campaigns that seek to rewrite history; coordinated social media swarms that inflame existing fault lines of societies, and an array of other actions that fall within the scope of their malign information operations.

From testimony transcript, available here.

The Guardian ran a story about several thousand Russian bots that had been “previously identified for airing Russian-backed messages on major events such as the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France and Chile’s mass demonstrations – are posting “near identical” messages about the coronavirus”. The goal seems to be to sow seeds of distrust between the US and China.

Fight Information Fatigue

Lexico.com is a mashup of dictionary.com and Oxford University Press. This is how they define Information Fatigue:

Apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information, especially (in later use) stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the Internet, or at work.


I don’t know about you, but this is exactly how I feel currently about the information available for the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the term information overload applies here as well. The danger with information fatigue is the same as any fatigue – it keeps you from taking action.

Right now there is so much information – and disinformation – about COVID-19 that getting fatigued can mean you don’t pay attention to the information you need to survive. After all, it takes time and effort to evaluate sources. Can you afford to get so fatigued you don’t evaluate your sources, and get sucked into reacting to disinformation?

Here’s how I’m trying to fight this fatigue:

  • I’m limiting my information intake to a couple of times a day, and timeboxing the time I spend on it.
  • If I get a direct message from a friend, I look critically at what they send me. It usually sets off a spirited text conversation or phone call (we love each other, so that’s ok).
  • I’m taking care of my mental health in my normal ways: yoga (most studios in Austin are teaching classes via Zoom), eating properly, getting enough sleep, walking my dog, working, and creating. I am always creating for work, which is incredible But bright side to social distancing: I’m home for the first time in a decade in the spring. So I have a REAL GARDEN going and I’m so happy about that.
    Bottom Line: take care of yourself so you have the strength to determine what information is important for you and your loved ones.

Real Talk

During a global epidemic you have to make sure you’re getting the information you need to survive, even if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information.

Be sure to take care of your mental and physical health so that you can avoid information fatigue. And NSE – never stop evaluating digital sources.

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Design Principles for Interactive Online Events

Do you need to host interactive online events? This is a good time to revisit this concept. As the world faces a viral health epidemic, meeting face-to-face in large groups of people may not be feasible. The World Health Organization even provides guidance on planning large events. It may be in the interest of public safety to move your event online.

But how do you capture the energy and excitement of an annual conference in an online platform? How can you be sure your employees are actively participating if you don’t have them all corralled in a conference room? This post will discuss where you can start the process of planning interactive online events.

Step 1: Review Original End Goal for the Face-to-Face Event

You may have been forced to transform your annual face-to-face event into a virtual event. You may be tempted to look at the tools first, but slow down!

The first thing to consider is your end goal. What was the end goal of the event when it going to be in person? Some common answers may be:

  • Product launch announcement. Launching a product at an in-person event is great because all of your internal experts will have face-to-face interactions with customers, partners, analysts, and press.
  • Helping customers understand technical details.
  • Training. You don’t think your teams will pay attention to online training, so you take them out of their job environments to ensure their full attention is on the training content.

Step 2: Map End Goals to Virtual Execution Methods

Once you’ve revisited the original goals, revisit how you planned to execute them during an in-person event.

Write down every aspect of your face-to-face event. Next to every element, explain how you were going to accomplish your goals in that face-to-face environment.

You may not have thought about this explicitly, but taking the time to re-evaluate your expectations will help you design interactive online events using tools that encourage participation.

Here’s an example of what this evaluation could look like for a conference and training event:

Event TypeEvent Element Face-to-Face ExpectationsFace-to-Face Interactive Expectations
ConferenceProduct Launch KeynoteBig splash to convey vision and how new product will drive that vision. Executives present topics on a big stage, usually with technical presentations to prove it actually works.Media reach and excitement. Social media pictures and commentary during the keynote to increase buzz and excitement.
ConferenceMedia BriefingsMeet in person with press, analysts, and bloggers to be sure they understand your vision and the new product. Gain insight into how they think this will impact the market, influence press stories.Real-time feedback on messaging and market fit. Relationship building.
ConferenceSessionsHelp customers understand the new vision, from business reasons to how it works technically.High level information transfer, answer customer questions in person, receive real-time feedback.
Face-to-Face EventTrainingEnsure learners are paying attention by having them in the same room as an expert.Knowledge Transfer, uninteruppted by distractions

Step 3: Interactive Online Events Must Be Deconstructed Face-to-Face Events

You can’t “lift and shift” a face-to-face event to virtual platforms and expect the same results. But you can thoughtfully design to create online versions of the interactive elements you expect in a face-to-face meeting. You have to create a deconstructed version of the events you normally plan.

To design interactive online events, continue your analysis by thinking of online ways to encourage the interactions you know how to drive in a face-to-face environment. The interactive expectations will most likely be the same, so think about ways to meet those expectations if everyone is connecting via laptops instead of handshakes.

Event TypeEvent Element Interactive ExpectationsOnline Tools for Interaction
ConferenceProduct Launch KeynoteMedia reach and excitement. Social media pictures and commentary during the keynote to increase buzz and excitement.Live webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.
ConferenceMedia BriefingsReal-time feedback on messaging and market fit. Relationship building.Webinar and live call.
ConferenceSessionsHigh level information transfer, answer customer questions in person, receive real-time feedback.Live webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.
Face-to-Face EventTrainingKnowledge Transfer, uninteruppted by distractionsLive webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.

Real Talk

It is possible to create interactive online events, but you must design them. You can’t just lift and shift the content to a webinar wand expect your audience to interact, let alone pay attention.

This post discussed ways to evaluate how you want your event to be interactive, and suggestions for how to create a deconstructed online event. In the next posts, I’ll discuss tools to facilitate interactivity as well as a real world example of an online event that was designed for interactivity.

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