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An image being shared on social media naming schools closing due to Covid-19 is fake: here's why

The image has been circulating following the confirmation of four cases of the virus in Clare.

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IN RECENT WEEKS, social media has been flooded with misinformation relating to the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Images of healthcare workers in hazmat suits, reports of a media blackout and claims of communities in self-isolation have all been shared online, before being debunked as false or misleading.

But as the virus continues to spread, so too do rumours about which communities have become affected by it and how the outbreak is being managed by health authorities.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it.
WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

One image that has circulated on social media in recent days claims that dozens of primary and secondary schools in Clare – where four patients in the county were diagnosed with Covid-19 earlier this week – have been forced to close because of the outbreak.

Although two schools in Clare did issue closure notices this week, the claim that dozens more are also being shut by health authorities is FALSE.

Let’s take a look at where this information is coming from in more detail.

The image

A screenshot showing a list of more than 40 schools throughout Clare that have had to close has been shared on WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook – where it was the subject of discussion by community groups – in recent days.

The image contains a banner for local radio station Clare FM, and is presented as a legitimate news report from the station’s website. Here it is:

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Why it’s fake

Although the image is a legitimate screenshot of a piece on Clare FM’s website and has not been doctored, the article it comes from was posted on 12 January 2010 – more than a decade ago.

Gavin Grace, the station’s Head of News and presenter of its current affairs programme Morning Focus, tweeted more about where it came from. He’s pointed out that the notice was put on the station’s website during a period of heavy snow/ice in the county.

And he also provided some context as to why the station had the list of school closures on its website:

Pre-WhatsApp groups, more schools contacted the station when they were closing in times of bad weather than would be the case now.

Clare FM also published a new piece on their website today, clarifying that the station was not naming schools affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Grace explained how the information may have spread so quickly throughout the county.

“When fake news and a fake image like this spread, people latch on to it because there is sometimes a vacuum of real and reliable information,” he said.

“That is why this image spread, and why I think there is significant concern from parents who got in touch with us.”

It’s important to re-state that two schools in Clare have been closed until 18 March following an outbreak of Covid-19 in the county. A third school also asked parents to keep their children at home yesterday, pending advice from the HSE.  

Although the names of the schools which have closed haven’t been released, it is understood that one is a primary school and that one is a secondary school, and that both are based in the northern part of the county.

Grace also explained why Clare FM decided not to name these schools specifically.

“We took the decision not to name any of the schools affected out of respect to the family affected,” he said.

“The HSE have referred to the outbreak as being in the west of Ireland, but once it became apparent through social media and online that they were in Clare, we decided to say the two schools are based in the north-west of the county.

“At this stage we’re not going further than that.”

The HSE said that parents of children attending these schools were sent text messages on Wednesday evening to inform them of developments.

There has been no reports of any other schools in the county closing at this time. 

***

There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

 STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always – a sign that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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