Facebook and its photo service Instagram have been trying to direct social media users to more trustworthy content from health organizations as pressure to do more to combat misinformation about the novel coronavirus ramps up.
It’s been unclear though exactly how well those efforts have been working especially as hoaxes and conspiracy theories continue to spread about COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. On Wednesday, Facebook and Instagram said it’s directed more than 1 billion people to resources from organizations including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. More than 100 million people clicked through pop-ups on the social networks to learn more about these resources, Facebook said.
The new data gives a sense of whether users are actually reading these trustworthy sources, a strategy that could help the social network combat hoaxes like the coronavirus is caused by 5G or you can cure the illness by drinking bleach. Roughly 2.6 billion people use at lease one of Facebook’s services including WhatsApp and Instagram daily.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, outlined the social media giant’s efforts in a blog post on Wednesday. The company’s strategy has included launching new features, providing donations and taking down coronavirus information that could cause physical harm. In January, the social media giant started showing Facebook and Instagram users pop-ups on their News Feed in several countries heavily impacted by the spread of the virus, directing them to information from the WHO, CDC and regional health authorities. Users would also see this information when they searched for COVID-19. Last week, the company also started showing users a new coronavirus information center in several countries including the US and Europe, an online hub that displays data, news articles, tips about social distancing and other content.
Despite those efforts, misinformation appears to be slipping through the cracks. In March, The New York Times reported that it found dozens of videos, photos and posts on Facebook, Twitter and Google that included coronavirus misinformation. Buzzfeed also reported that while Facebook is cracking down on coronavirus misinformation in English, it’s struggling to police similar content in other languages.
Misinformation has even surfaced on private messaging apps, including Facebook-owned WhatsApp, a service that’s encrypted and popular in developing countries. WhatsApp also launched a coronavirus information hub and donated a $1 million to help fact-checkers debunk misinformation.
This week, Facebook-owned Messenger said that it was launching a new program to connect developers with health organizations for free. Messenger plans to start testing limits on the number of chats people can forward at one time using its service soon.