The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a difficult time for all of us. While the vaccine is now a reality, experts predict that it will still be a long time before life returns to pre-pandemic normal. For now, international travel, music festivals, and large sporting events have been replaced with working from home, wearing face masks, and keeping a spare bottle of hand sanitiser in the car.
The pandemic has seen the influence of fake news reach new heights, driven partly through anxiety and a lack of real knowledge about the symptoms and side effects of Covid-19. Coronavirus online scams have been popping up left, right, and centre, as vulnerable people desperately seek ways to protect themselves.
Isolation has not helped. Social media may have been a great way to keep in contact while lockdowns forced us apart, but it has also enabled conspiracy theorists to spread dangerous lies about the origins and infectious nature of Covid-19.
Disinformation may be commonly spread through social media platforms but no corner of the internet has been spared the work of scammers and fake-news devotees, including the dark web.
Covid-19 and the dark web
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the internet. Market intelligence provider IDC (International Data Corporation) estimates that the internet will be 175 zettabytes in size by 2025. That’s 1,125,899,910,000,000 megabytes! Suffice to say, it’s difficult to keep a track of what is going on.
We do know that the internet is made up of three layers — the surface web, the deep web and the dark web. The surface web is the portion of the internet that we access daily whilst browsing social media, shopping and streaming content. You most likely access the deep web on a regular basis as well, although you may never have heard of it. The deep web contains secure servers that hold private information. For example, logging onto your online banking portal will take you to the deep web.
The dark web is a detached corner of the internet. Having never heard of it, many people question how to access the dark web. Well, doing so requires specialised software and a good idea of what you’re doing, as the websites on the dark web are not indexed and ranked the same way regular websites are.
The dark web has a reputation for illegal behaviour due to the anonymous nature of its users. Actions on the dark web cannot be tracked, so cybercriminals use the server to sell illegal material, including drugs and weapons.
This is where coronavirus enters the picture. Now that the Covid-19 vaccine has been approved, the battle to distribute doses has begun. For large countries, this is quite a difficult task and most have taken the approach of prioritising healthcare workers, the elderly, and those in high-risk categories before the wider population.
Not everyone is happy to wait, a fact that cybercriminals have quickly taken advantage of. Fake Covid-19 vaccines have popped up across dark web forums, with people paying up to $1000 for a single dose.
Safe to say, cyber security and medical experts cannot recommend strongly enough against people purchasing vaccines through these channels. They are unlikely to ever arrive and if they ever do, there is absolutely no guarantee that the vaccine will do what it claims to.
Avoiding misinformation online
Humans love to spread stories. The arrival of mass media means that these tales can take on a life of their own, spreading like wildfire across the world. Truth is often sacrificed at the expense of sensationalism and shares.
Fake news is defined as stories created to deliberately misinform readers. In its own way, fake news is a particularly devastating type of online scam. In the case of Covid-19, misinformation has seriously endangered lives. Many people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus have since expressed regret at buying into fake news and not taking the disease seriously.
Follow these tips to avoid reading and spreading misinformation online:
- Consider the source: News, particularly about something as significant as a global pandemic, is best accessed from established sources. This includes national broadcast networks and legitimate websites run by professional journalists. Do not let social media be your only avenue to accessing information.
- Pay attention to design and editing: There are many blogs and sites out there masquerading as legitimate sources. If you are visiting a news site for the first time, pay careful attention to the design. Looks can be deceiving but a well-established news website will likely put time and effort into creating a cohesive and user-friendly interface. Read a few articles to check if they have consistent editing standards or are willing to publish mistake-ridden information.
- Read beyond the headline: Even legitimate news sites will use clickbait headlines to pull you in. Always read beyond the headline to get a better understanding of the facts of the situation before sharing with friends and family.
- Watch for ‘sponsored content’: In an effort to remain commercially viable, many news websites allow ‘sponsored content’ to be featured amongst their legitimate news stories. ‘Sponsored content’ is really just another term for advertisement; these articles usually have another agenda and should not be taken seriously.
- Understand algorithms: Social media platforms are constantly filtering your feed to show content they believe you will relate to and share. This means that you often are not exposed to every side of a story. Understanding this, and making a concerted effort to access information outside your social media bubble, will help prevent you from falling for misinformation.
And whatever you do, don’t buy a vaccine from the dark web.
Credit Author: Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.