Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook F8

Facebook to clamp down on coronavirus disinformation

Image credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has explained how the company will handle posts about the novel coronavirus, covid-19, as the disease continues to spread around the world.

Facebook says it will provide unlimited free advertising for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and millions of dollars for other organisations to boost the visibility of reliable information about the virus.

Users who search for “coronavirus” on Facebook will also be shown an educational message directing them to the WHO or a local health authority for authoritative information on the progression of the outbreak.

Facebook users in countries in which the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission will be shown this information at the top of their news feeds.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook would also remove false claims about the virus, including “false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global organisations”. People who share or try to share misleading content will be alerted to the fact that it has been debunked.

Fakebook’s fact-checking programme attracted controversy this week over a “false” label applied to NBC News and Politico articles by right-wing publisher and Facebook fact-checking partner The Daily Caller. The flagged articles concerned President Donald Trump’s garbled comments on coronavirus, which NBC News and Politico characterised as Trump calling coronavirus a hoax, leading to accusations that The Daily Caller has been making politically motivated judgements as a fact checker.

Facebook will also block people from running ads exploiting the outbreak, such as those promoting dubious miracle cures for the disease, e.g. drinking bleach.

“This means we are now prohibiting ads for products that refer to the coronavirus in ways intended to create a panic or imply that their products guarantee a cure or prevent people from contracting it,” Facebook said. “For example, ads for face masks that imply they are the only ones still available or claim that they are guaranteed to prevent the virus from spreading will not be allowed to run on our platforms.”

Covid-19, which emerged from Wuhan, Hubei province, China, towards the end of 2019, has been transmitted person-to-person to affect countries around the world. So far, there have been close to 100,000 recorded cases and more than 3,000 deaths, mostly concentrated around Wuhan. There is no cure for the virus, with affected patients being given treatment to cope with the symptoms as they recover. According to the WHO, the death rate for covid-19 appears to be around 3.4 per cent, making it significantly more deadly than existing strains of 'flu.

Facebook says that it is contributing “aggregated and anonymised” data, such as population density maps, to help researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University understand how the virus is spreading.

Facebook has also cancelled its annual F8 developer conference and withdrawn its presence from other major international events such as South by Southwest over concerns of unwittingly facilitating coronavirus transmission.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles