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Facebook takes extra steps to counter coronavirus misinformation

Image credit: reuters

Facebook has said it is working to “limit the spread of misinformation” on its platform with regards to the coronavirus which has recently been classified as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The site, which has long harboured communities of anti-vaxxers, said it was employing a global network of third-party fact-checkers which are reviewing content and debunking false claims related to the coronavirus.

When they rate information as false, its spread is limited on both Facebook and Instagram and accurate information is shown to people instead. The social networks will also send notifications to people who already shared or are trying to share this content to alert them that it’s been fact-checked.

Beyond this Facebook will also remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.

The move is unusually aggressive for Facebook, which generally limits the distribution of content containing health misinformation through restrictions on search results and advertising, but allows the original posts to stay up.

That approach has angered critics who say the company has failed to curb the spread of inaccuracies that pose major global health threats.

In particular, misinformation about vaccination has spread far on social media in many countries in recent years, including during major vaccination campaigns to prevent polio in Pakistan and to immunise against yellow fever in South America.

Facebook, under fierce scrutiny worldwide in recent years over its privacy practices, has previously removed vaccine misinformation in Samoa, where a measles outbreak killed dozens late last year, after determining the situation was so severe that the inaccuracies were risks to physical harm.

It also removed misinformation about polio vaccines in Pakistan, although the imminent harm in that case involved risks of violence against the health workers carrying out the immunisation campaigns, she said.

Earlier this month the firm announced it will hire 1,000 new employees in London, many of whom will be working on technologies to remove harmful content.

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