Technology platforms are fighting to control misinformation regarding the novel
through search prompts, removal of content and by teaming up with fact checkers, amid a
deluge of alarming warnings, possible cures and rumours regarding the virus that originated in China.
On Friday, Twitter launched a dedicated search prompt for India with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that individuals imemdiately get authoritative health information from the right sources when they search about the virus.
Facebook, Google and YouTube also flash the same link to the WHO website if ‘coronavirus’ or related terms are searched on their platforms.
Some Indians have enthusiastically taken to the Internet to ‘educate’ fellow users on the prevalence of the virus, possible prevention measures and cures.
While most videos correctly ask people to avoid crowded places, wear a mask and maintain basic hygiene, some have incorrectly claimed that ayurvedic remedies, including garlic and mint leaves, can cure the virus. Some have even created alarm by saying patients infected by the virus have a zero survival rate.
The virus, first identified in Wuhan in Hubei Province last year, causes respiratory illness. It is transmitted between people and animals. Scientists have yet to find a vaccine for the infection. The death toll has crossed 800 in China, while total infected cases have crossed 37,500.
Facebook has also started removing content with claims and conspiracy theories that have been debunked by the WHO or other credible health experts and which could cause harm to people who believe them. The social media behemoth is focusing on claims where, if someone relies on the information, it would make them more likely to get sick or not get treatment. This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods – like for instance ones that say that drinking bleach cures the infection – or claims that discourage treatment or create confusion about health resources that are available.
“As the global public health community works to keep people safe, Facebook is supporting their work in several ways, most especially by working to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus and connecting people to helpful information,” said Kang-Xing Jin, Head of Health at Facebook in a blogpost.
Chinese short-video platform TikTok, owned by ByteDance, has put out a warning in 8 Indian languages for its users, asking them to verify facts with trusted sources, including the WHO or resources from the local government while creating, viewing or interacting with novel coronavirus-related content.
It has also asked users to report content that they think violates TikTok’s community guidelines. Videos with #Coronavirus hashtag has been viewed a staggering 786 million times on TikTok.
A TikTok spokesperson told ET that its community guidelines do not permit misinformation that could cause harm to its community or the larger public, and that it would remove deliberate attempts to misrepresent authoritative sources of news.
Regional language social media platform ShareChat’s Public Policy Head Berges Y Malu said the company was deeply concerned with the issue of fake news and that it has multiple third-party fact checkers reviewing content across 12 languages. He added that any content found to be factually inaccurate is tagged as such on the platform.
Helo, a regional language social media platform also owned by ByteDance, said it has provided easy access to trusted sources of information through Helo’s official accounts in 10 local languages and is working with fact checkers to limit the spread of misinformation.