Social media giants join forces to tackle spread of fake coronavirus news

Social media giants such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YoutTube have, for the first time, joined hands to fight the spread of fake news on their platforms. They have issued a joint statement.

What is the situation like?

With the world coming under the threat of the novel coronavirus, causing COVID-19 infection that has affected over 214,000 people worldwide and killed nearly nine thousand globally, there is widespread panic. The World Health Organization (WHO) last week declared the infection as a pandemic. Fear has given rise to people sharing information on social media platforms. Not all of this information is true say experts, and fake news has only intensified the panic.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID
Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

What did they say?

They wrote, “We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world.  We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

The statement, released online, is signed by Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube.

The fight against disinformation/infodemic

Last week the United States Chief Technology Officer Michael Michael Kratsios held a meeting of the representatives from major technology companies to coordinate the efforts related to combating COVID-19. One of the agenda of this remote meeting was to fight misinformation spread over the internet.

The White House has also asked Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, IBM, Cisco, as well as Twitter to help it fight the spread of misinformation.

The World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had addressed a press conference at the Munich Security Conference on February 15th, way before the disease had been declared a pandemic. In his address, he had said, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

LinkedIn & Reddit

LinkedIn spokespersons have reported that there are links provided on their website that lead users to sites where the news is authentic and trustworthy. Spokespersons from Twitter also said they are taking steps, which include reviewing the “Twitter rules in the context of COVID-19 and considering how they may need to evolve to account for new account behavior.” Reddit said that communities that provide hoax news and misinformation in their blogs might be quarantined themselves and their posts removed from search results. They would also warn the users about the fake news, they reported.

Google & Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp

Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, has published two blogs this month that speak about a screening site called Verily in California. Google is cleaning up the Play Store to allow users to download apps that can provide them with better information. Those with the most useful information would flash an SOS. For the United States government, Google is also making an information site to help prevent misinformation.

Facebook, too is showing information cards regarding the authenticity of news about COVID-19, and both Instagram and Facebook have provided links that take the user to authentic sites such as the government health authorities or the World Health Organization. Facebook is also using artificial intelligence to screen for bullying, fake news, and abuse on its pages. The AI has also blocked some innocent feeds, said the officials.

Facebook has taken some concrete steps to provide correct information, including supporting fact-checkers and connecting local news organizations. They are limiting harmful content and also have banned ads for medical masks after the acute shortage of surgical and N95 protective masks. People in a panic have scrambled to buy the masks leading to this shortage. Exploitative ads also been banned by Facebook. Facebook has generated $20 million in donations and matched it to support the relief funds for COVID-19. It is showing more free ads to support health organizations across the world and also working with the industry partners to amp up the response efforts. Facebook is helping people stay connected over WhatsApp and keeping the platforms safe and clean of misinformation, said their site.

Facebook has also announced this week they are awarding $100 million in cash grants as well as ad credits for thirty thousand small businesses from thirty different nations. This will help these businesses with the economic impact of this pandemic said their statement. Much of these grants will be in cash, they said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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