Mark Zuckerberg outlined some of the initiatives of Facebook and its charitable foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, to respond to the new coronavirus outbreak,media outlet TechCrunch reported. Zuckerberg said in a statement Tuesday that the FB and Chan Zuckerberg initiatives are responding to the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 and false information about the disease.
Facebook’s response focused on three areas: providing accurate information; combating false information; and providing data for research (not from Facebook).
To provide accurate information, Facebook directs users searching its platform for information about the new coronavirus to the World Health Organization or local health authorities through automatic pop-ups. This information notification is also automatically populated into the news feed for use by everyone in countries where the World Health Organization has reported human-to-human infection.
“In light of the developments, we are working with the Ministry of Health and organizations such as WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF to help them obtain timely and accurate information about coronaviruses,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We have provided the World Health Organization with many free ads in response to their response to the new coronavirus outbreak and other physical support. We will also provide support and millions of dollars in advertising credit to other organizations, and we will work closely with global health experts to provide additional assistance when needed. “
To stop the spread of fake information on the platform, Facebook is eliminating false claims and conspiracy theories that are being flagged by the Global Health Organization, and the company is blocking ads that try to exploit public fear, Zuckerberg wrote.
Facebook is “looking at how people use our services to help make greater efforts to contain the outbreak,” Zuckerberg wrote. Researchers are already using aggregated anonymous Facebook data, including mobility data and population density maps, to better understand how the virus is transmitting. “
Questions remain about what controls Facebook has in place to restrict who has access to anonymous data and how users may use it, or how long they can maintain access once the virus threat is removed. Facebook had not responded to a request for comment as of the time of the release.
The technology proposed by Chen Zuckerberg will also help health care institutions curb the spread of the disease. In partnership with the Gates Foundation, researchers funded by the two organizations were able to completely sequence the genome of the virus that caused COVID-19 in just a few days, making it easier to identify people infected with the virus. Zuckerberg wrote that the same team created a public version of the IDSeq tool so that scientists could study the entire genome against the backdrop of other pathogens.
Biohub, an Initiative by Chen Zuckerberg, has also been working on the development of cell maps that map different cell types in the human body. Some researchers are using the atlas to try to assess how the new coronavirus damages the lungs and to identify treatments that could limit the damage the virus causes to the lungs.
“We can do more to help people reduce their sense of isolation and help each other, and we’re working on ideas that we’ll share in the next few weeks, but the focus is now on slowing the spread of the virus itself,” Zuckerberg wrote. “For many, this is a difficult time for me and I am thinking about everyone affected by this – people who are sick or quarantined, their friends and family, and of course the medical staff who are always on the front lines of any outbreak.” We’ll share more updates as soon as possible. “