The spread of the new coronavirus pneumonia around the world has prompted Google, Facebook and Twitter to move quickly to stop the spread of false information about the outbreak on the Internet. The three Silicon Valley giants have long cracked down on dangerous lying health messages, including posts, photos and videos that have even scared many people from getting much-needed vaccines.
Facebook and its peers are already trying to counter conspiracy theories that have emerged online, including that U.S. government officials secretly created the virus and patented it. Some of the false information is spreading across Facebook groups – and researchers have difficulty tracking it in real time.
As of Monday, a post that “bull-to-grass has been shown to be effective in treating the new coronavirus” had been shared at least 2,000 times in multiple groups. The post, which was published 10 years ago and originally from a malicious health website, has been dismissed by scientists as saying that bovine grass has no effect on coronaviruses.
Facebook said Monday that seven agencies have worked with it nine times in recent days to find a number of false claims about the new coronavirus, including posts peddling fake therapies. Facebook said it had flagged posts with inaccurate content and downgraded its ranking in the user’s stream.
On Monday, Twitter began directing U.S. users searching for topics related to the new coronavirus to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Google’s Youtube says its algorithm will give reliable sources of information a higher priority, but many videos – including one that has been viewed more than 430,000 times – contain suspicious information about the origin and transmission of the new coronavirus.
Out of dissatisfaction, fear, or incomprehension, social network users can share and reinforce false information in real time, causing unnecessary trouble for doctors and government officials in the event of a public health crisis.
Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Watch, said, “Because people search the Web for more information, false information can mislead the public and spread quickly on social networks.” Therefore, the platform should certainly verify the information and use algorithms to reduce the ranking of false information. Such content verification is not uncommon, and it is necessary whenever there is a public crisis. “
Facebook, Google and Twitter have also taken responsibility for cyber-gatekeepers in an effort to stop false information about the new coronavirus. On the one hand, they and other tech giants say they won’t act as “truth arbiter” of what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the fate of what users post on the web; In particular, health and medical-related statements, posts, photos and videos that people post can influence patients’ thoughts and decisions about accessing the necessary medical care.
In general, the three companies have policies with clear health-related posts to ensure that discussions in the digital world do not harm users’ real lives, but in the eyes of regulators and medical professionals, the silicon services that have the most users do not strike a perfect balance between the two. For example, it was only months after it was approved that Facebook responded to content that falsely claimed that vaccines were linked to autism, and many groups promoting “natural” therapies remainactive on the Facebook platform, although Facebook warns users who join such groups.
Google last year refined its YouTube algorithm to make many harmful content unpresent in search results, and Twitter has taken a similar approach, recommending more reliable results to users searching for anti-vaccine topics. But there is still a lot of dangerous false information on these platforms, which has been criticized by U.S. health officials, who say social media remains a security risk.
Experts point out that major disease outbreaks continue to be breeding grounds for more harmful false information. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Medical School say that about four years ago, false information about the Zika virus far exceeded authoritative information. The spread of the new coronavirus has led to their discovery in 2016, posing new challenges for Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“We have less information, and scientists have been studying the virus, and it’s not clear how it will spread,” said Joan Donovan, director of the Science, Technology and Social Change Research Program at the Shuth Deep Research Center. “
The internet is full of conspiracy theories.
Facebook, Google and Twitter crack down on fake online information about new coronavirus
As the number of confirmed cases increased, a flood of heavily read conspiracy theories on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend claimed that the U.S. and other governments had previously patented the new coronavirus. One tweet, which called the new coronavirus an “epidemic” – and now claims it has been patented – was shared about 5,000 times on Twitter as of Monday.
Facebook’s third-party truth-checking partners labeled the claims false, saying researchers had patented other genetic sequences that had previously been found to be viruses. But the emergence of such fake content has been fueled by the emergence of thousands of members of the private Facebook group, which has been formed around topics such as “natural remedies.”
A search of facebook showed that thousands of users joined a newly created group designed to exchange inside information about the outbreak of the new coronavirus pneumonia. This could be a hotbed of the spread of false information, which researchers say is difficult to combat.
More than 1,100 Facebook users joined the Coronary Virus Alert Watch group, which shares gossip about the virus’s spread – some even say it aims to “reduce the population” and links to where to buy masks and other medical equipment. As with all groups, posts, photos, and videos from users of that group are pushed into the message stream of all members.
“The situation is changing rapidly and we will continue to work with global and regional healthcare organizations to seek their support and assistance,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “
There are still others who use groups associated with the new coronavirus to peddle false information that bovine or glued silver can treat these diseases. Some of the posts included links to an 11-minute YouTube video, which was viewed more than 20,000 times and falsely claimed that the new coronary virus lung disease caused “180,000 deaths” in China.
Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said the company was “doing a lot of research to increase the exposure of authoritative content and reduce the spread of false information” to ensure that users searching for news can see authoritative search results first. YouTube declined to disclose details of whether it took other steps against videos linked to the new coronavirus.
On Twitter, some users with a large following shared unconfirmed claims that the new coronavirus infection was caused by Chinese eating habits. Tweets and videos – many of which have been shared thousands of times on Twitter – are suspected of racial discrimination against Chinese, and scientists have yet to figure out the origin of the new coronavirus.
Katie Rosborough, a Spokeswoman for Twitter, said the company has a policy that prohibits users from teaming up to mislead other users. She said the company will deploy a feature in the Asia-Pacific region, “and when a user searches for a topic, he first sees authoritative medical information from the right agency.”