Coronavirus: How Tech Companies Are Dealing With Fake News & Lies

Facebook has announced free ads for WHO and Ad-credits for Ministry of Health and other ministries. 

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WebQoof
5 min read
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India has reported 166 positive coronavirus cases and three deaths related to it as on 19 March. Amidst the partial lockdown of public spaces and government’s monitoring of the pandemic, social media has emerged as an expected avenue for users to share and seek information. Amid this scare, however, the misinformation epidemic is threatening to take over as well.

From its origin to its symptoms, prevention and cure, all aspects of the viral outbreak have been dogged with fake news and misinformation being shared on social media.

To tackle the menace as well as to provide infrastructural support to government ministries and health organisations like WHO, Facebook announced a string of initiatives on Wednesday, 18 March, which include free advertisements.

Here’s how global social media giants Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram are trying to limit and counter health misinformation in the wake of coronavirus outbreak:

1. Facebook

Supporting The Govt

Facebook has announced Ad-credits to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare; Ministry of External Affairs; Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Civil Aviation.

In addition, Facebook, in a press statement, said it has conducted trainings for government officials in Telangana, Odisha and Kerala “on how to create effective and visually compelling digital content.”

The platform also announced that WHO and UNICEF would be provided free ads  for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the social network is stepping up its efforts to combat virus-related misinformation by giving the World Health Organisation (WHO) free advertising.

In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said that the company is working with national health ministries and global organisations like WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF to get out timely and accurate information on the virus.

Earlier, after the WHO had declared the virus a global health emergency, Facebook released a blog post detailing the platform’s efforts towards containing the spread of misinformation.

The social networking site listed a three-point approach to counter fake news:

  • Limiting Misinformation and Harmful Content: : “We have temporarily banned advertisements and commerce listings, like those on Marketplace, that sell medical face masks,” the company announced on 18 march. The California-based company is also prohibiting people from making health or medical claims related to the coronavirus in product listings on commerce surfaces.
  • Providing Helpful Information and Support: In India, if people search for ‘coronavirus’ or any related keyword, they will see a post (as in the image below) suggesting that they can find more information about coronavirus on the WHO's website. By clicking on the post, users will be directed to WHO's page. This is available in regional languages as well.
  • Empowering Partners with Data Tools: “To support fact-checkers in their work around COVID-19, we’re partnering with The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to launch a $1 million grant program to increase their capacity during this time,” Facebook has announced.

Facebook said that its third-party fact checkers are flagging false content about the illness. It further added that the organisation will also start removing content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities.

2. Twitter

Microblogging and social networking site Twitter has also adopted a couple of techniques to counter the falsehoods and conspiracy theories being spread around the outbreak.

Twitter in its blog post says that the organisation is dedicated to “promoting constructive engagement, and to highlight credible information on this emerging issue.” While they claim no significant coordinated attempts to spread disinformation at scale have been noticed using the platform, dedicated search prompts have been launched by the platform to help users access credible data.

The Quint reached out to Twitter officials who informed us that in India, Twitter has launched a dedicated search prompt with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and WHO to ensure when an individual searches a hashtag they're immediately met with authoritative health information from the right sources up top.

3. TikTok

The China-based social networking site TikTok is being widely used to circulate massive amount of misinformation regarding the virus and its symptoms. In one of the videos which surfaced on the networking site, it was claimed that the Chinese government developed coronavirus as a means of population control. A claim which was later debunked by The Quint.

Rey Allie, TikTok’s trust and safety product strategy expert, told Forbes that the Los Angeles-based moderators will review these reports and remove videos that peddle in falsehoods while purporting to be authoritative news sources.

Keeping in mind the popularity of the platform among the youth and instances from the past when doubts were raised over TikTok’s ability to monitor and contain fake news, The Quint has also reached out to the ByteDance-owned firm to get a comprehensive response regarding steps being taken to counter coronavirus-related disinformation.

4. Instagram

Facebook-owned social networking site Instagram has deployed methods similar to Facebook to counter health misinformation on its platform. Instagram is removing content with claims and conspiracy theories that have been debunked by the WHO or other credible health organisations with the help of experts.

“We’re focusing on claims where, if someone relies on the information, it makes them more likely to get sick or not get treatment. This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods – like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus – or claims that discourage treatment or create confusion about health resources that are available,” Officials from the organisation told The Quint via email.

While trying to develop a long term solution to help connect people searching COVID-19 related terms with credible information, Instagram is showing the accounts of leading health organisations in these searches to better connect people to credible resources.

Officials at Instagram are also working to help people get relevant and up-to-date information from partners through messages on top of News Feed.

5. Google & Apple

Apple and Google have started rejecting all coronavirus-related mobile software from unrecognised health organisations or the government. According to a report by CNBC, “Apple has been specifically evaluating coronavirus apps to prevent the spread of misinformation.”

Google Play has a rule against apps that “capitalise on a natural disaster” or “atrocity” or appears to “profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to the victims.” On Thursday, a search for “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” returned no results on Google’s app store in the United States, an intentional move from Google to prevent misinformation, the report stated.

(Update: The story has been updated to incorporate the new measures announced by Instagram to combat misinformation around novel coronavirus.)

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on Whatsapp at 9643651818, or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

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