Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global public health emergency, we’ve been working to connect people to accurate information and taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading. Today we’re sharing an update on these efforts across our apps.
Connecting People to Reliable Information
On Facebook and Instagram: In January, we started showing educational pop-ups connecting people to information from the WHO, the CDC and regional health authorities toward the top of News Feed in countries with reported person-to-person transmissions and in all countries when people search for COVID-19 related information. We show similar pop-ups at the top of Instagram Feed in the hardest hit countries and when anyone taps on a COVID-19 related hashtag.
Last week, we launched the COVID-19 Information Center, which is now featured at the top of News Feed on Facebook in several countries and includes real-time updates from national health authorities and global organisations, such as the WHO. The COVID-19 Information Center will be available globally soon.
Through these efforts across Facebook and Instagram, we’ve directed more than 1 billion people to resources from health authorities including the WHO – more than 100 million of whom clicked through to learn more.
We’re also giving the WHO as many free ads as they need and millions in ad credits to other health authorities so they can reach people with timely messages.
On WhatsApp: People can sign up to receive the WHO Health Alert on WhatsApp, a daily report with the latest numbers of COVID-19 cases. It also includes tips on how to prevent the spread of the disease as well as answers to commonly asked questions that people can easily send to their friends and family. We’re also working directly with health ministries in the UK, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Israel, South Africa and other countries to provide similar health updates specific to those nations. In the last week, over 100 million messages have been sent by these organisations to WhatsApp users. In addition, we donated $1m to the International Fact-Checking Network to expand the presence of fact-checking organisations on WhatsApp, so people can submit rumours they find directly to fact-checkers. More information is available at whatsapp.com/coronavirus.
On Messenger: We’re connecting government health organisations and UN health agencies with our developer partners who can help them use Messenger most effectively to share timely information with people and speed up their replies to commonly asked questions. Agencies such as UNICEF, Argentina’s Ministry of Health and Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination are already using Messenger to ensure people have the latest information about COVID-19.
Limiting the Spread of COVID-19 Hoaxes and Misinformation
On Facebook and Instagram: We remove COVID-19 related misinformation that could contribute to imminent physical harm. We’ve removed harmful misinformation since 2018, including false information about the measles in Samoa where it could have furthered an outbreak and rumours about the polio vaccine in Pakistan where it risked harm to health aid workers. Since January, we’ve applied this policy to misinformation about COVID-19 to remove posts that make false claims about cures, treatments, the availability of essential services or the location and severity of the outbreak. We regularly update the claims that we remove based on guidance from the WHO and other health authorities. For example, we recently started removing claims that physical distancing doesn’t help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We’ve also banned ads and commerce listings that imply a product guarantees a cure or prevents people from contracting COVID-19.
For claims that don’t directly result in physical harm, like conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, we continue to work with our network of over 55 fact-checking partners covering over 45 languages to debunk these claims. To support the global fact-checking community’s work on COVID-19, we partnered with the Independent Fact-Checking Network to launch a $1m grant programme to increase their capacity during this time.
Once a post is rated false by a fact-checker, we reduce its distribution so fewer people see it, and we show strong warning labels and notifications to people who still come across it, try to share it or already have. This helps give more context when these hoaxes appear elsewhere online, over SMS or offline in conversations with friends and family. On Instagram, we remove COVID-19 accounts from recommendations and we’re working to remove some COVID-19 related content from Explore, unless posted by a credible health organisation.
On WhatsApp and Messenger: We’ve built clear labels that show people when they have received a forwarded message, or chain message, so they know when they are receiving something that was not written by their immediate contacts. We’ve also set a limit on the number of times messages can be forwarded on WhatsApp to reduce the spread of viral messages, and we use advanced machine learning to identify and ban accounts engaged in mass messaging. Similarly, we’ll soon begin testing stricter limits on Messenger to control the number of chats someone can forward a message to at one time.
This is an evolving crisis, so as world health officials issue new guidance and warnings about COVID-19, we’ll continue working with them to ensure people have access to accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps.
Nick Clegg is Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications