August 1, 2021


Future Technology

Facebook built a new center to direct people to accurate coronavirus information

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Angela Lang/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that the company built an information center to direct users to “authoritative information” about the novel coronavirus that will appear at the top of the News Feed. The move is the social media giant’s latest effort to combat misinformation about the virus.

The new feature will roll out in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US within the next 24 hours and the company plans to release it globally. The center will include real-time updates from national health authorities and global organizations such as the World Health Organization. It will also feature articles, videos and posts about social distancing and how to prevent spreading the virus.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, social media companies have been grappling with reducing the amount of false information on their sites. The virus causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19 that includes symptoms such as a cough and shortness of breath. Conspiracy theories, including that coronavirus is an invention of the pharmaceutical industry or is caused by 5G have popped up online. 

It’s unclear though, how well these efforts have been working. The New York Times reported in March that dozens of videos, photos and posts that included coronavirus information continue to slip through the cracks on social media. Misinformation about the coronavirus has also surfaced in private Facebook groups and encrypted WhatsApp messages, making it more difficult for the company to find and pull down. 

Facebook said in late January it will work with third-party fact checkers and will limit the reach of posts that its partners find are false. The company is also removing content that could cause physical harm such as claims that drinking bleach cures the coronavirus. 

“You don’t allow people to yell fire in a crowded room, and I think that’s similar to people spreading misinformation in the time of an outbreak like this,” Zuckerberg said during the conference call.

Government agencies have also used social media to try to dispel rumors and hoaxes about the coronavirus. The company has also run into technical challenges as it tries to crack down on posts that violate its rules. On Tuesday, users who were posting links to news articles including about the coronavirus were being falsely flagged for spam. Facebook said the company had an issue with “an automated system that removes links to abusive websites” but has fixed the problem. 

Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook’s response to coronavirus misinformation hasn’t been perfect given the large amount of posts the company has to look through. Facebook hasn’t shared any data about the amount of harmful coronavirus misinformation it’s removed. 

Outside of content moderation, Facebook temporarily banned ads and listings that sell medical face masks.

 matching $20 million in donations to the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization as part of a fundraiser on the social network. This week, Facebook said it was awarding $100 million in grants and ad credits to assist small businesses.  Facebook-owned WhatsApp also launched a coronavirus information hub to direct people to resources and tips and has donated $1 million to the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network.

Facebook said Wednesday that it will make a workplace version of the social network free for governments and emergency organizations for the next 12 month.

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