Coronavirus: How are Google, Instagam, Facebook, Twitter & YouTube tackling misinformation?

During this period of increased interest in information about coronavirus, I thought I would explore how the big social media companies are processing rumours and disinformation about this public health emergency.

For the first time since the introduction of social media a large part of the world’s population will come across some information about the coronavirus that they’re uncertain about. Should they trust it? Is it a rumour? Or is the information a legitimate witness account of something that just happened?

The best source of information about the coronavirus is the World Health Organisation, government health authorities and credible news outlets. But during periods of heightened fear rumours and other wrong information can be spread very quickly across all digital platforms. People instantly turn to a search engine or a social media app to seek more information.

Since the spread of misinformation during the 2016 election in the United States, the big tech companies are now better prepared to tackle incorrect reports on their platforms.

People googling the word “coronavirus” are now feed a ‘news carousel’ at the top of the search result. And directly below that a ‘Help and Information’ panel that sends users to the World Health Organisation’s website.

The first page of the Google search is full of trusted information sources. The Wikipedia page for ‘coronavirus’ has been pushed to the second page of the Google Search results.

The top search result on Facebook for the word ‘coronavirus’ sends people to WHO. The second and third results show the Facebook pages for the United States health authority, the CDC, and WHO. (Facebook has indicated that they’ll eventually be sending people to their country’s national government health agency, not America’s CDC.)

“Anyone who searches for information related to the virus on Facebook is shown educational pop-ups on top of search results connecting them to expert health organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO). We’ve launched these globally over the last few weeks in all languages on Facebook, directing people to the WHO. In several countries we are directing people to their local ministry of health. For example, in the US we are directing people to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in Singapore, we’re directing people to the Singapore Ministry of Health. Moreover, in countries where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission and deaths, we’ve shown additional messages to people toward the top of News Feed with more information” — Facebook statement.

Facebook has partnered with news outlet Agence France-Presse to provide important fact checking in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Aarabic. One of the many pieces of information that they’ve shutdown was an incorrect report stating that the Pope had contracted the coronavirus. You can read their fact checked story here.

YouTube users are fed a large World Health Organisation message at the top of their search results when they search for ‘coronavirus.’

Instagram today announced that they would be removing “harmful misinformation related to COVID-19.” They too have started elevating WHO to the top of search results — and UNICEF.

Instagram will also be sending posts that may be misleading to their fact-checking partners for review, blocking and restricting hashtags being used to spread misinformation and banning ads exploiting the situation.

I haven’t seen any coronavirus announcements by Snapchat.

Yet to be announced is how digital companies will approach rumours and misinformation being spread privately amongst people — Silicon Valley refers to this activity as ‘private sharing.’ This type of communication occurs mostly in Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, Twitter Direct Messages, Instagram Direct Messages and Snapchat Direct Messages. People use private messaging to communicate with family, friends and work colleagues — and on some occasions, the spread of information privately can be a lot more powerful than if it’s spread publicly.

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