Online platforms’ actions to tackle the COVID-19 infodemic
Last week, the tech giants issued a joint statement on COVID-19 misinformation, affirming their commitment to elevating authoritative content and cooperating with government healthcare officials. Following this, the platforms have gone to great lengths to respond to the continuous flood of misinformation. In this context, First Draft has summarised how the platforms are responding to the COVID-19 infodemic with policies and initiatives.
According to Politico, one silver lining of the infodemic is that online platforms have demonstrated their ability to combat misinformation. They have shown a willingness to act, which is something that “firms like Facebook, Google, and Amazon are going to find difficult to roll back on”. Yet, the situation of staff and moderators working remotely has led to mistakes due to automated filtering, which leaves clear room for improvement.
National and international actions to tackle the COVID-19 infodemic
National and international health authorities are at the forefront of coronavirus “infodemic”. Working on providing up to date reliable information, in part through social media, the World Health Organisation has set up a “mythbuster” page to debunk the main disinformation on the pandemic.
In the meantime, the pandemic has also created concerns over restrictions in civil liberties, including online, with several governments passing laws and conducting arrests over the spread of disinformation on the virus. In view of this, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted how being open and transparent is key to countering misleading information.
Over the course of last week, the worsening pandemic also brought about an escalation in tensions between China and the US. President Trump repeatedly dubbed COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” fueling Sinophobia and resulting in the expulsion of US journalists from China. In a battle to shape discourse about the pandemic, Yuval Noah Harari stresses the importance of unity in times of emergency. He notes, “every crisis is an opportunity. We must hope that the current epidemic will help humankind realise the acute danger posed by global disunity”.
- Reuters Institute has looked back into past research on misinformation to advise journalists on how to report during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, using the language of risk rather than the language of uncertainty in reporting on the pandemic encourages a “consideration of a range of options grounded in an analysis of risks and rewards”.
- Privacy in the times of Coronavirus: this short piece argues that the use of data in emergency situations, such as the coronavirus, should not come at the price of privacy and governance over this data.
- Wondering how COVID-19 conspiracies can be debunked? The Verge has interviewed a leading cognitive scientist who argues that “inoculation” is key to refuting conspiracy theories, which is a process of delivering misinformation in a weakened form by explaining how it can’t be true and explaining what the facts are instead.
- According to Coda Story, COVID-19 has stimulated an abundance of fresh anti-5G conspiracy theories. The reasons for this lie in the panic and fear caused by uncertainty. In an interview with Coda Story, one social psychologist noted how conspiracy narratives emerged as a way to deal with extreme anxiety experienced during the 2015 Zika outbreak.
- Fighting COVID-19 misinformation on social media: Experimental evidence for a scalable accuracy nudge intervention: this new study explores why users share COVID-19 misinformation and finds that user inattention seems to be at the root of the issue. In this context, users share misinformation because social media distracts them from the accuracy of the information. You can read a quick summary here.
- The European External Action Service’s EUvsDisinfo has released a short report on COVID-19 disinformation narratives. The most common narratives spread falsehoods about migration, the EU, and the origins of COVID-19, such as the idea that the virus is a biological weapon deployed by China, the US, the UK, or Russia.
Events and Announcements
- International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and Facebook have partnered to support the fact-checking community working on the COVID-19 related misinformation with a budget of $1 million.
- 26 March, 12:00 GMT @ First Draft webinar – Reporting on COVID-19: Headlines, images and visualisations (in French).