Facebook has announced that it will wage war on what it deems to be misinformation about the coronavirus that is spreading across China and popping up around the globe.
The new policy was outlined in a Facebook blog post last week by Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health.
“As the global public health community works to keep people safe, Facebook is supporting their work in several ways, most especially by working to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus and connecting people to helpful information,” Jin wrote.
“Our global network of third-party fact-checkers are continuing their work reviewing content and debunking false claims that are spreading related to the coronavirus. When they rate information as false, we limit its spread on Facebook and Instagram and show people accurate information from these partners. We also send notifications to people who already shared or are trying to share this content to alert them that it’s been fact-checked,” he wrote.
“We will also start 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. We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm,” he wrote.
Jin also said that information about alleged cures will also be blocked. He specifically cited a claim that drinking bleach cures the coronavirus.
Facebook’s action on the coronavirus is in contrast to its policy about fact-checking political ads, in which it has said it will allow users to determine the veracity of competing for political claims.
In China, officials are also cracking down on anyone who talks about the nation’s response to the virus, which has come under attack as the toll of deaths and infected Chinese has risen, the New York Post reported.
WeChat, a Chinese social media app, said users who spread rumors about the virus could face seven years in jail, the Post reported.
Facebook’s crackdown drew mixed reviews.
— David Knight (@libertytarian) February 1, 2020
This is actually big news on the coronavirus and how dangerous it is! MSM and social media like Twitter and Facebook can try to cover it up but the truth is coming out! https://t.co/PeFCRqQG1W
— Suze Michelini (@emilia_suze) February 1, 2020
NEW: Facebook, Google and Twitter are scrambling to confront an early wave of misinformation about coronavirus, with hoaxes on cures and its origin. I took a look at the private groups, YouTube channels and fast-spreading tweets: https://t.co/y08CQHZlxM
— Tony Romm (@TonyRomm) January 27, 2020
Other social media giants are also trying to manage information readers get about the coronavirus, CNN reported.
Google will provide information from the World Health Organization to users who search for information on the coronavirus. Twitter has begun responding to users who search for information by highlighting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some commentators said social media is an important conduit for information because Americans have such low trust in government and the mainstream media.
“Whenever a threat like a potentially global infectious disease appears in the media, members of the public try to make sense of the nature of the threat,” Adrian Bangerter, a professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, said, according to MarketWatch.
“If trust is low, then there is a risk that alternative explanations like conspiracy theories may complicate efforts to contain disease spread.”
“The health system in this country is not beloved,” Matt Jacob, a public health consultant, told MarketWatch. “But most Americans have fairly limited knowledge of science and medicine, and that creates a challenge.”