News Lit Tips

Take 20 seconds for good information hygiene

Take 20 seconds good information hygiene

It took the COVID-19 pandemic to get most people to adopt the hand-washing guidelines that health experts — like those at the World Health Organization — have recommended for years. (Studies from the mid-19th century showed that good hand washing could help stop the spread of disease.)

To kill germs, like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, experts advise that you wash your hands for 20 seconds. That doesn’t mean limply running them under the faucet. You must use soap and water, scrub under your nails, between your fingers and on the backs of your hands. To be sure that you do this for 20 seconds, sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

This public health message has been repeated countless times during the COVID-19 crisis, including in videos showing various celebrities washing up.

Advice for good  information hygiene

This guidance serves as an apt metaphor for practicing good information hygiene. Peter Adams, the News Literacy Project’s senior vice president of education, made the connection during a March 14 segment of NPR’s All Things Considered.  Here is how Peter described it: “The equivalent of taking 20 seconds and washing your hands is very much the same in the information space. If everyone can take 20 seconds, investigate the source, do a quick Google search, stay skeptical, we can eliminate a great deal of the confusion and misinformation out there.”

Doing so is an important step in practicing good information hygiene and helping to stop misinformation’s viral spread. This is critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a public health crisis, consuming and sharing false or misleading information can be a matter of life and death. And to help stop the spread of misinformation, pausing before you share content online is always important.

Learn more

For additional guidance on good information hygiene, check out NLP’s infographic Sanitize before you share