Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

NewsGuard Technologies launches Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center

False information about COVID-19 is plaguing the internet. Now NewsGuard wants to stop it.

New York City-based NewsGuard Technologies, which hosts a subscription service that rates the credibility of online content sources using a multi-point check system, has launched a Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center for the purposes of disseminating information about websites that are willfully spreading false information about the COVID-19 disease and the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself.

NewsGuard and its accompanying browser extension provide its users the ability to make informed determinations about the quality of where they obtain their news -- particularly as it relates to a content source's political biases.

NewsGuard is a desktop Chrome extension that displays credibility and transparency content scoring and is available by subscription. It launched in February of 2020 and costs $2.95 per month for a desktop user and is free to use if you are a Microsoft Edge user on iOS or Android. 

health-impact-news.png

A site spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 virus, as identified by NewsGuard.

Jason Perlow

NewsGuard was formed in 2018 by media entrepreneur Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz. The company positions itself as an unbiased evaluator of news content and employs former journalists who evaluate many of the sites in its database according to political orientation. In addition to credibility and transparency scoring, the company offers long "Nutritional Label" writeups which detail the ownership and also the political leanings of a particular content source, along with any historical incidents of news misrepresentation. 

The company is extending this methodology to its coverage of content sources which are reporting on the COVID-19 novel coronavirus disease.

"NewsGuard's mission is to stop the spread of misinformation by rating the reliability and trustworthiness of news sites and websites posing as news sites," said Gabby Deutch, NewsGuard's Washington correspondent and a co-leader of the Tracking Center. "Misinformation and disinformation related to health care pose the greatest immediate threat to those who read if it is not flagged for what it is -- which is what we do."

Misinformation about the novel coronavirus that has been spreading from various online content sources includes false claims about both the origins of the COVID-19 virus disease and treatments for it. Among false claims are that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was engineered in a Chinese laboratory as a bioweapon or stolen by Chinese spies from Canada. Hoax websites have promoted dangerous "treatments" for the illness, including colloidal silver, bleach, and high doses of Vitamin C.

"We've already uncovered 31 sites that are spreading coronavirus misinformation, and the number is growing every day," said John Gregory, a long-time health care journalist, and the Tracking Center's other co-leader. "They range from InfoWars (the website run by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones) to NaturalNews.com (a health care hoax site that regularly promotes misinformation about vaccines). Many are enormously popular, with their posts being exponentially more widely shared on social media than some of the world's most reliable health care information websites. "In a few cases," Gregory added, "some news sites that NewsGuard has rated Green overall -- meaning they are generally reliable -- have nonetheless published false or unsubstantiated information about the virus, and they are listed on the Tracking Center for that reason."

Readers who have come across a potentially false story about the COVID-19 novel coronavirus can use this page to submit a site for review by NewsGuard's staff, or by clicking on "Submit this site for review by NewsGuard" within the browser extension.