Misinformation and “fake news” are common on social media platforms. Look up anything and you are bound to find at least one or two articles that are spreading lies about it, which some people will believe. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the only thing that seems to be spreading faster than the virus itself is the misinformation about it, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has coined an “infodemic.”
Historically, social media giants have required a lot of protesting, shaming, and prodding to address issues like anti-vax propaganda, hate speech, and even the harassment of victims of mass shootings. Unlike all of those other instances, social media giants are working with WHO to try to stop the infodemic.
The way the virus spreads and its origins have been identified as one of the bigger issues with the infodemic. Claims have been spread by groups and websites that the coronavirus was created by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more vaccines, was caused by a bioweapon, or biological warfare. There have also been plenty of fake cures and remedies online, some as harmless as garlic water, and some much more dangerous.
“In our social media monitoring, for instance, we’ve come across proposed cures and prevention options for coronavirus for everything from, you know, you just need to pray to more harmful proposed treatments like drinking bleach,” said Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project.
Media Giants Work
Right now, typing “coronavirus” into Google will show you a much different search result than you are used to seeing. Instead of seeing ads and sites that have perfected their SEO strategy, you will see information from the government, the CDC, WHO, and mainstream media. The tech giant has been working hard to keep only accurate sources available on the first page of your search results.
Facebook has an information center that has official medical advice and curated, accurate information available. CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared a post about how his company is handling the infodemic: “We’re focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information. This is critical in any emergency, but it’s especially important when there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of infection. If you search for coronavirus on Facebook, you’ll see a pop-up that directs you to the World Health Organization or your local health authority for the latest information. If you’re in a country where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission, you’ll also see it in your News Feed.
“Given the developing situation, we’re working with national ministries of health and organizations like the WHO, CDC and UNICEF to help them get out timely, accurate information on the coronavirus. We’re giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support… We’re also focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation. It’s important that everyone has a place to share their experiences and talk about the outbreak, but as our community standards make clear, it’s not okay to share something that puts people in danger. So we’re removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations. We’re also blocking people from running ads that try to exploit the situation — for example, claiming that their product can cure the disease.”
Zuckerberg has also been interviewing health officials on Facebook Live and sharing information about the virus from health officials.
When you search for the virus on Instagram, there is a pop-up that will urge users to go to the CDC’s website instead of looking at things with the hashtag.
There are still plenty of people sharing misinformation on social media, but social media giants are working with WHO to combat the spread as much as possible. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.
Wls. “Coronavirus US: How COVID-19 ‘Infodemic’ Is Infecting the Internet with False Information.” ABC7 Chicago, 3 May 2020, abc7chicago.com/how-coronavirus-infodemic-misinformation-internet/5989971/.