The coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the globe. The outbreak has infected nearly 10,000 people and killed more than 200. On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a significant “public health emergency of international concern.”
Now, tech companies and social media platforms are cracking down on related misinformation about cures and other non-proven theories. According to Facebook’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, the company has committed to “remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.”
Facebook will give priority to select organizations that hold credible information by allowing them to run free ads. However, the list of these organizations has not been publicized. Enforcement and implementation are currently underway.
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Jin stated the company would pursue similar efforts with Instagram. Facebook is fact-checking and monitoring posts on the app and will display a pop-up containing reliable information about the virus to users. Overall, Facebook aims to educate people properly about the coronavirus and ensure that expert health advice can cut through the noise.
How Others are Responding
The coronavirus outbreak is putting Silicon Valley through a high-stakes test related to misinformation management. News disseminators, like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are facing pressure to control illegitimate rumors and falsities across many areas. The latter two have taken big steps to guide consumers to correct information this week.
Google is clearing online traffic so that users can see the latest updates from the WHO when they conduct a search related to the coronavirus. YouTube is also pushing credible videos to the top of relevant searches. More specifically, the video platform is emphasizing content from trusted health advisors and news outlets for search results and suggested videos.
Twitter is encouraging members to go off-platform and seek information from official channels. For example, in the U.S., users are prompted to head over to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website to get the facts. The same is true for users in other countries, such as Australia, Singapore, and the U.K., for their respective health authorities. By Wednesday, Twitter had already seen 15 million tweets about the coronavirus.
Another Chance at Redemption
Social media platforms have struggled in the past to manage misinformation about global health crises. These issues bring up intense debates around creating space for free speech versus silencing obvious hoaxes or malicious fake news.
Facebook has around 2.5 billion users currently and nearly 3.0 billion with Instagram and WhatsApp. With direct access to 40 percent of the world’s population, Facebook has tremendous influence over what people believe. Instagram has vowed to guard against hashtags that facilitate misinformation after a CNN Business report found that promotions from anti-vaccination profiles still received heavy traffic.
These players have yet to strike a perfect balance. However, it appears there is a lot of effort and investment going towards this particular 21st-century challenge.