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Facebook steps up fight against coronavirus misinformation

April 16, 2020

Facebook has been flooded with campaigns touting fake cures and conspiracies about the origins of the virus. The new features include warning ordinary users who have liked or shared inaccurate or harmful material.

The Facebook logo
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Drew

Facebook announced on Thursday that it would employ new tactics to fight misinformation about COVID-19 on its platform.

The move follows unprecedented steps taken by many of Silicon Valley's popular platforms to tackle a new wave of online misinformation targeting users seeking to learn more about coronavirus, including a campaign that claims COVID-19 is a hoax.

Facebook said it will now let users know if they liked, reacted or commented on posts with harmful misinformation about the virus. It will also direct people who engaged with those posts to information about virus myths debunked by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Users will start seeing the warning messages in the coming weeks, along with a new feature called ''Get the Facts.'' The feature will be on the COVID-19 information center of its news feed and it will include fact-checked articles from partner organizations that debunk misinformation about the coronavirus.

Read more:  Security lapses plague messaging and video apps

Facebook says it had already slapped warnings on some 40 million posts related to coronavirus in March, following reviews of the posts by independent fact-checkers.

"When people saw those warning labels, 95 percent of the time they did not go on to view the original content," Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said.

Facebook has been under fire for enabling its users to peddle fake news and has fallen increasingly under the scrutiny of governments and regulators.

False ads for virus treatments

Among the flood of misinformation that Facebook is battling are conspiracies about its origins and fake cures.

A false claim that the virus is ''destroyed by chlorine dioxide'' was reportedly viewed nearly 200,000 times, a new study by Avaaz, a left-leaning advocacy group that tracks and researches online misinformation, showed.

One post has sought to spread the idea that garlic was an effective treatment against COVID-19. Another mass-circulated a theory that coronavirus was somehow rooted in 5G telecommunications, an assault on the very concepts of biological and non-biological matter that was later shared by celebrities including rapper Wiz Khalifa and British TV presenter Eamonn Holmes.

Read more:  Why the coronavirus has nothing to do with 5G internet

Avaaz says it found more than 100 pieces of misinformation about the coronavirus on Facebook that had been viewed millions of times, even after the they had been marked as false or misleading by fact checkers.

European Commission vice president Vera Jourova welcomed the tech giant's new measures, but said the company needed to do more.

"We will need more transparency and better access to data for researchers to fully verify the scope and impact of false content and to be able to assess Facebook's actions from the perspectives of both public health and fundamental rights," Jourova said.

jcg/msh (AFP, AP)

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