How Social Media Sites Are Preventing The Spread Of COVID-19 Disinformation

By Ellen Kershner on May 26 2020 in Society

Twitter has deleted the posts of a number of users who posted COVID-19 falsehoods. Image credit: Photo by Yucel Moran on Unsplash
Twitter has deleted the posts of a number of users who posted COVID-19 falsehoods. Image credit: Photo by Yucel Moran on Unsplash
  • From the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, rumors pertaining to it have been running rampant on social media.
  • There was a good deal of misinformation on Twitter in mid-March, include tweets from prominent accounts.
  • These tweets were removed by Twitter in accordance with their zero-tolerance policy
  • YouTube also stepped up, and banned COVID-19 content that is in direct contradiction to World Health Organization
  • Facebook is not immune to coronavirus hoaxes, either.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, rumors pertaining to it have been running rampant on social media. People looking for legitimate information have been misinformed, causing them to become frightened, panicked, and uncertain. Posted disinformation includes fake audio from the Pentagon and fake virus cures like drinking hot water and inhaling air from hair dryers.

It is important to keep people properly informed and lessen the confusion and new problems that can stem from rumors. Social media outlets have stepped up to notify the public when coronavirus disinformation has made the rounds, although it is not easy to keep up. Here is what has happened.

On Twitter

David Clarke tweeted that restaurants should lockdown orders. Twitter deleted his dangerous tweets. Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

There was a good deal of misinformation on Twitter in mid-March, including tweets from prominent accounts. Three were posted by David Clarke, whose handle is @SheriffClarke. One was linked to an article about restaurants being ordered to close. Clarke added that restaurants should “defy the order,” and people should decide if they wanted to go. He also suggested that people “take to the streets.”

Businessman and programmer John McAfee tweeted that COVID-19 could not “attack black people because it is a Chinese virus.” Rep. Bobby Rush called him out later, publicly. Actress Alyssa Milano also had a tweet removed that contained an image with wrong information about staying protected from the virus.

These tweets were removed by Twitter in accordance with their zero-tolerance policy against attempts to abuse their service and use the platform to manipulate public opinion. They updated their policy on March 4, to protect the public from disinformation and ads that use the pandemic to promote inappropriate marketing tactics.

YouTube

YouTube banned conspiracy theorist David Icke for spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash 

YouTube also stepped up and banned COVID-19 content that is in direct contradiction to World Health Organization (WHO) advice. As of April 22, the Google-owned platform is removing anything that is "medically unsubstantiated" in order to halt disinformation on its platform. Chief executive Susan Wojcicki said the media giant wanted to stamp out "misinformation on the platform.” This included advice for people to take turmeric and vitamin C as known cures.

YouTube also banned a live-streamed interview with David Icke, a known conspiracy theorist. Icke had linked the coronavirus pandemic to technology. Icke also stated that an eventual vaccine would have "nanotechnology microchips" that once given to humans, would enable authorities to control them.  

Facebook

Facebook is not immune to coronavirus hoaxes, either. In mid-April, they announced a strategy to combat the flow of disinformation on their platform. They plan to invite people who have shared and like known hoaxes to visit the World Health Organization’s page that debunks COVID-19 myths. This way, users are redirected to truthful information from authoritative sources and are less likely to spread bad information.

Critics feel that this method may not be successful, as people do not like to be called out and embarrassed in front of other people. Though they may stop spreading the misinformation, they may be less likely to admit their mistakes.

The human rights group Avaaz published a report on Facebook back in April that analyzed 100 pieces of COVID-19 disinformation that had been shared on Facebook. They found that these posts had been seen 117 million times. Avaaz’s authors feel that Facebook should let every person who has read this misinformation be informed.

As recently as May 6, though, Euronews reported that a Facebook video filmed in French showed a pastor called COVID-19 a “man-made poison.” It was viewed more than 856,000 times. A German-language page associated with a naturopathic doctor and Austrian author Ruediger Dahlke claimed that the flu vaccine promoted COVID-19 infections. This same conspiracy theory was shared a Facebook page for the magazine Compact.

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