The coronavirus's rapid spread worldwide is forcing Big Tech to confront the equally viral proliferation of misinformation -- in the form outright falsehoods and half-truths about the outbreak.
Facebook, Google and Twitter have all struggled in different ways to contain medical misinformation, in particular around vaccines, in recent years. The Silicon Valley mainstays face a potentially much bigger challenge as coronavirus spreads across the world, having already infected 2,800 people in China and killed at least 82.
The Washington Post reports that Facebook and its fellow social media companies have been fighting a range of conspiracy theories, including that the U.S. government secretly created or obtained a patent for the illness.
“Oregano Oil Proves Effective Against Coronavirus,” read one post that had reportedly been shared across multiple groups on Facebook by Monday.
According to scientists, there is no such cure for the virus.
Facebook confirmed to the Post on Monday that its partner organizations have issued nine fact-checks in recent days pertaining to several false and fake posts about coronavirus; the company labels the inaccuracies and lowers their rank in users' daily feeds. “This situation is fast-evolving and we will continue our outreach to global and regional health organizations to provide support and assistance,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to the newspaper.
Twitter has reportedly been steering users toward more credible sources when they search for coronavirus-related hashtags.
“It’s captivated the public and been trending on social media as people look for more information,” Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory, told the Post in an interview. “So, the platforms should certainly be putting their fact-checking and algorithmic downranking of conspiracy content to work here.”
Last year, Google tweaked its algorithms to prevent a large amount of harmful content from surfacing in search results. However, as the Post reports, several videos were on the platform that promote dubious information about coronavirus.
A spokesperson for YouTube told the Post the company is “investing heavily to raise authoritative content on our site and reduce the spread of misinformation on YouTube."