NEW DELHI: The battle against covid-19 is being fought on several fronts. One such fight is against misinformation which is being spread through social media platforms. In the last few weeks, there have been several instances where misleading information has led many to try out medically unsubstantiated chemicals. Many violated lockdown and gathered at stations and bus depots after misleading reports on resumption of transport services were circulated.
“We are battling an outbreak of rumours and hoaxes. Fake news that spreads false information and unverified data is particularly dangerous in a public health crisis when misinformation around ‘treatment’ and ‘cures’ for instance, can be harmful or even life threatening,” said Shishir Vinay Bhate, Editor in Chief at Yahoo India.
Many of the leading social media platforms were quick to act by redirecting any covid-19 or coronavirus related searches on their platforms to reliable sources. So far, Facebook has directed over 2 billion people to resources from the WHO and other health authorities through their COVID-19 Information Center on Facebook and Instagram.
“But connecting people to credible information is only half the challenge. Stopping the spread of misinformation and harmful content about COVID-19 on our apps is also critically important,” Guy Rosen, VP Integrity at Facebook said in an April 16 blog post.
Facebook is working with more than 60 fact-checking organizations which have been reviewing and rating content in over 50 international languages. To support these organisations, the social network has announced a $1 million grant program in partnership with the International Fact-Checking Network.
If the fact checkers flag a piece of information as false, Facebook will restrict its distribution and show warning labels with more context. “Based on one fact-check, we’re able to kick off similarity detection methods that identify duplicates of debunked stories,” Rosen points out. During March, Facebook displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to covid-19. Facebook found that in 95% of cases, if people saw those warning labels they did not go to the source of the content.
Google on its part, has set aside funds of $6.5 million to support fact checking and verification efforts by fact checkers and non-profits. Google News Initiative (GNI) is also stepping up its support for First Draft, a non-profit project which was created to fight online misinformation. First Draft is helping with dedicated training and crisis simulations for reporters covering covid-19 across the world. They will also assist newsrooms so they can respond and nip fake news in the bud before it spreads.
News aggregator platforms like Yahoo News have been on the look out to mitigate spread of fake news on their platforms. Their editors are reviewing all coronavirus and covid-19 related news coverage closely. They are verifying source of the information, cross checking them with reliable sources from government and other global organisations, in addition to relying extensively on fact-checking sites and resource hubs like firstdraftnews.org for newsgathering, verification and fact-checking tools.
Another news aggregator platform Inshorts has introduced a built-in, shareable digital magazine called #InsightsbyInshorts on its app. These magazines revolve around busting myths, giving information on precautionary measures and delivering the government announcements to the readers. It has also added rumours vs fact cards, which shows rumour on one side and the correct information right next to it.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has over 2 billion users worldwide, is enabling global organisations like WHO and governments including in India to curb misinformation on the diseases through informative chatbots which can respond to public queries and provide them the correct information vetted by medical community, health organisations and health ministry.
According to WaBetaInfo, WhatsApp is testing new feature which will help users identify frequently forwarded messages by allowing them to upload the message in Google search for further verification.