As if the fight against the worldwide coronavirus pandemic was any easier, a wave of inaccuracy is spreading on coronavirus across social media networks.
If you have any social media presence, chances are that you have likely come across unverified home remedies to tackle the virus, conspiracy theories of the most bizarre nature, fake advisories asking people to avoid foods such as ice cream and chicken, a plethora of diagnostic procedures, tons of videos detailing the potential symptoms of the disease, and what not!
Unfortunately, these types of misinformative messages are on the rise, particularly as the outbreak spreads, and with it, the anxiety levels around the world. People are looking for answers, but the difficult part is that there are no answers to many of the key questions. Since we don’t know for sure how the virus spread, how it works, or nor how long it’s going to take to weed it out of our societies, people looking for more views and likes are capitalizing on the uncertainty and fear to spread false news.
Fortunately, all social media giants are expanding their full efforts in an attempt to quell the spread of false news and provide users with helpful and accurate information regarding the COVID-19.
Facebook is accessed by 1.66 billion individuals every day, and that number is only going to increase as a push towards social isolation continues. Most importantly, a rising number of those users look to Facebook for their news content!
In a bid to keep people informed about the COVID-19 pandemic and provide assistance amid the chaos and disruption of the outbreak, Facebook has recently undertook tons of initiatives to provide authoritative information — while removing falsehoods and hoaxes that could harm public health or lead to chaos. Facebook has just announced a COVID-19 Information Center panel that is going to be featured at the top of all user News Feeds.
This information panel is projected to be the hub of the latest official news and updates on the outbreak, in addition to useful posts, videos and articles pertaining to the spread of COVID-19, the importance of social distancing, and other developments all around the globe. People who follow the Coronavirus Information center will be able to receive updates from the health authorities directly in their News Feed. Not only that, people in the US will be able to connect with local groups and offer or ask for help within their community.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, “The top priority and focus for us has been making sure people can get access to good information and trusted sources during the pandemic.”
The Social Network is clearly stepping up to provide support where it can. Facebook’s enormous efforts to give back to the community amid the evolving crisis include:
Adding Informational Prompts To Relevant Search Queries
In an attempt to make sure that their users are guided towards accurate sources of information, and to prevent conversations getting hijacked by those looking to spread fear and chaos, Facebook has set up fact-checking teams to monitor related conversations and flag inaccurate posts. Facebook is also sending notifications to people who try to share this flagged content to alert them that it’s been fact-checked. Content with false claims or conspiracy theories will also be removed from the platform. Even better, whenever someone looks up information pertaining to the virus on Facebook or tap a related hashtag on Instagram, Facebook will respond by sending them a dedicated information module with credible information.
Similarly, since Twitter has taken action to make its team go remote, which includes the content moderation team as well, the platform has announced that it will increase its reliance on automation tools to detect and remove violating content.
Expanding Access To Local Alerts
In the face of this evolving crisis, the need to get timely and accurate information to local communities has never been more pressing. Facebook has recently announced that it will give more local authorities, such as municipal governments, law enforcement agencies, and state and local emergency response organizations, access to its Local Alerts tool, to help them distribute relevant information and development updates among their communities.
Launching A New Business Resource Hub
With Coronavirus spreading across the globe, region after region is being impacted by the various quarantine measures, shutdowns and closures which are being implemented to help contain its impacts.
While the primary focus lies on public health and safety, everyone, from large scale corporations to small restaurants, are feeling the pinch. In the wake of these dire consequences, Facebook launched a new Business Resource Hub in an attempt to provide support to all businesses, directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
This includes everything from offering resources and tips to help small businesses stay connected with their customers and sustain the impacts without losing operations, to links to the latest official information about COVID-19 to keep communities and small businesses informed.
According to Facebook, “At Facebook, we’re working to keep people safe and informed about the recent outbreak of COVID-19. We know that as members of the communities you serve, businesses like yours may also be experiencing unexpected challenges, and we’re committed to providing as much support as possible.”
Providing Free Ad Credits To The WHO
Like it or not, people are spooked by the pandemic and are looking for more information while they are isolated from the outside world. And given the propensity for people to run towards Facebook when it comes to seeking out news, its 2.5 billion active users will be expecting Facebook to disseminate necessary information on the latest updates.
In a recent announcement, Facebook is providing the WHO with as many free ads and support as it requires to maximize its coronavirus response. In addition, Facebook is also offering millions in ad credits to any organization working to raise awareness of the outbreak and reach out to those living in impacted region.
Implementing Bans On Ads Feeding On COVID-19 Fears
Facebook just announced a ban on ads that are capitalizing on the coronavirus fears in relation to prevention or cures related to their products, or even those creating a sense of urgency for commercial gain, such as implying a limited supply of an item in demand. Ads like these, that are not backed by scientific facts, have been appearing in some regions, and as Facebook notes, are looking to capitalize on concerns. It won’t be long before Facebook decides to ban all mentions of the outbreak in ads, and only allow information from official sources to flow through.
Providing New COVID-19 Data Tracking Tools
Facebook-owned social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle just incorporated a new search feature to help users keep track of relevant information on evolving web trends. Whenever a user searches for any term, the tool not only displays all the relevant mentions of that term, but also the query’s popularity. In addition, the tool allows you to narrow down your search by memes, specific time frames or by platform. CrowdTangle’s new set of publicly available, regional dashboards for COVID-19, highlight all the relevant, public Facebook and Instagram posts on the subject across 45 markets. Upon clicking on any of the regional displays, you’ll be shown a dashboard of mentions specifically relevant to that region only.
The public COVID-19 info displays provide a broader picture of the information that is available online pertaining to the pandemic, including notes and discussions posted on each platform and major announcements from news outlets and health organizations. On the one hand, this tool gives you a better understanding of what’s transpiring, on the other hand, all this information can prove to be overwhelming as well.
Allocating $100 million In Funding To Small Businesses Impacted By Coronavirus
The shutdowns and isolation measures are taking their toll on small busiensses all over the globe. To help ease the burden of small-scale businesses in the communities in which Facebook operates, it is allocating a new $100 million grants program to assist 30,000 SMBs, in 30 nations.
Launching A million Dollar Program To Support Fact Checkers
The onslaught of the pandemic has given birth to a horde of opportunists, who are spreading false reports and misinformation, in order to sell their goods, gain political traction and sow fear. In order to combat this, Facebook is looking towards third party fact checkers. As per the platform, “Today we’re announcing that we’ve partnered with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to launch a $1M USD grant program to support fact-checkers in their work around COVID-19.” In addition, Facebook is launching a new grant program to assist local newsrooms in their coverage of COVID-19 within their respective communities to combat the spread of fake news and keep local communities informed.
Providing Staff Bonuses And Eliminating Performance Reviews
In another announcement, Facebook is offering a $1,000 bonus to all its 45,000 employees to help them cope with issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak. As per a Facebook employee:
Facebook isn’t perfect, but wow does it take care of its employees.
1) $1000 added to next paycheck
2) Free Portal device for VC calls
3) No performance rating this half
4) Biannual bonus will be paid as though all employees got Exceeds Expectations for their rating
— Zack Argyle (@ZackArgyle) March 17, 2020
The video sharing platform is also doing its fair share in the midst of the pandemic to provide accurate information and resources from public health officials to masses and dispel myths rampant around the outbreak. In a recent Statement, TikTok has announced a new content partnership program with the World Health Organization (WHO), where users will be able to ask questions of experts in a live streaming session with the WHO and garner tips on preventing the spread of the virus and staying safe. In addition, WHO is sharing videos containing critical updates around the COVID-19 crisis, using its verified TikTok account, to better connect with a younger audience base.
Anytime the users search for coronavirus-related topics, this information resource will appear in the top results. Otherwise, it can also be accessed via the discover tab. TikTok’s also adding a link to the page on all shared videos pertaining to the outbreak, so as to encourage its users to only consult credible sources for COVID-19 facts.
Similar to Facebook and TikTok, Snapchat is also expanding efforts to provide accurate, timely information about the COVID-19 outbreak to its users, in order to assist in global information push around the pandemic. For this, SnapChat is collaborating with US Centers for Disease Control and the WHO to make sure that Snapchatters are getting the most up-to-date and official information on the situation from expert sources. As per the platform,
“WHO publishes regular updates from their Official Account, and we’ve worked with their team to develop custom content to answer questions from the Snapchat community.”
While other platforms are working to reduce the risk of misinformation, Snapchat claims that it already delivers accurate content via its Discover platform to users since that content is already curate and vetted. In addition, the platform’s content guidelines prohibit their users and partners from deliberately spreads false information or sharing deceitful content. Not only this, Snapchat just came up with a new AR filter with the help of the WHO. which includes key information about reducing the risk of infection amid the outbreak and staying safe.
Kudos to @Snapchat & @WHO for launching this new filter today to help people reduce their risk of #coronavirus infection. Please share it. #COVID19 #snapchatfilter (awesome job @sofiargross) pic.twitter.com/JYBE0aukHk
— Laurie Keith (@lauriekeith) March 13, 2020
As for what it does best, SnapChat just launched a couple of new stickers to superimpose health measures during the outbreak.
In order to reduce misinformation related to the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent the spread of hoaxes, Twitter updated its safety rules, requiring people to remove Tweets that include the following:
Content that increases the chance that someone contracts or transmits the virus, including:
– Denial of expert guidance
– Encouragement to use fake or ineffective treatments, preventions, and diagnostic techniques
– Misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) March 18, 2020
In addition, Twitter will remove any posts that claims thing like “essential oils and ginger water can cure Coronavirus”, “Heat kills coronavirus and walking out can disinfect you better than a sanitizer,” or “ingesting colloidal silver can ward off the virus”. Twitter will also not allow any posts that aim to spread conspiracy theories such as “Corona virus is not real”, or “it is a product of biological warfare” or “washing your hands is propaganda for soap companies”. Any content that is found propagating misleading information around the diagnostic procedures, such as claiming that those who can hold their breath without coughing for 10 seconds do not have the virus, are banned from Twitter. Similarly, any claims that put some religions or ethnicities as safe from the virus, are also banned.