Tech companies fight back against misinformation about coronavirus

Volunteers in protective suits disinfect a railway station as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Changsha, Hunan province, China February 4, 2020. (Reuters)

Tech companies have stepped up to combat a new wave of misinformation about coronavirus amid the outbreak, but inaccurate and exaggerated information has still spread widely across various platforms.

Like coronavirus, misinformation spreads fast. Social media becomes a feeding frenzy for those worried they may contract the virus. As of January 29, Twitter said there had been over 15 million tweets about coronavirus, also known as corona.

In a statement on Twitter’s blog, the company said “We do not permit platform manipulation and we encourage people to think before sharing or engaging in deliberate attempts to undermine the public conversation.”

Facebook said it will begin removing false claims about supposed cures and unproven theories surrounding coronavirus. This follows ongoing criticism that Facebook had not done enough to fact check and remove false advertisements.

Google has also increased efforts to combat inaccurate information. Updates from the World Health Organization now appear first when someone searches coronavirus on Google.

Despite renewed efforts from major tech players, less-than-accurate information has still circulated, including home remedies not proven to work, theories about the disease’s origins – like that it was caused by Chinese people eating bat soup – and even articles inflating the death toll. One article reported the global death toll at over 700; at the time, the actual death toll was nearing 300. As of Tuesday, 425 people had been killed by coronavirus, mostly in China.

“There have been some incorrect theories on the internet,” Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at UNSW Sydney’s Kirby Institute, said.

One chart, which was retweeted over 100 times, went as far as to predict the entire world would be dead by September 20, 2020. The authors – from a post on the Reserve Report website – acknowledge that seems unlikely, but wrote on the website “We’re not going to underestimate the Wuhan coronavirus.”

reserve report graph

reserve report graph

 

Experts told Al Arabiya English that the numbers are false.

“This model and projection have no merit at all,” said Joseph Eisenberg, chair of the department of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The report appears to not factor in the effect prevention efforts, such as quarantines and self-quarantine, may have on the virus’s spread, added Dr. Rebecca Fischer of Texas A&M School of Public Health’s Epidemiology & Biostatistics department.

“It is certainly my opinion that this is a worst-case scenario model – which can incite a dangerous amount of panic, and panic creates a lot of difficulties in controlling an epidemic,” Fischer said. “The model should be interpreted with caution and certainly is not a likely scenario.”

With so much information at the world’s fingertips, diligence is needed to ensure that consumers are finding accurate information.

MacIntyre said to best fight misinformation that “people should look to reputable, scientific sources for their information.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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