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COVID-19 and Misinformation

This article explains the dangerous impact misinformation has during the time of covid-19 and it explains how social media platforms are battling this fake news.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis; it is also an information crisis. In addition to the actual pandemic, we have to deal with an epidemic of fake news, where false information spreads quickly over the Internet and infects our social networks.


Why do people spread Covid-related fake news? 

Some people across the world believe that the covid-19 vaccine will contain a tracking chip. For a portion of the population, Covid-19 was intentionally created in the laboratory. However, and regardless of the motive behind the spread of fake news, one thing is certain: COVID-19 is an extremely fertile ground for disinformation and rumors. Conspiracy theories, misrepresentation of news, bogus medicine, discrediting partisan politics, the variety of fake news relating to the coronavirus pandemic has been plentiful since the start of the virus around the world. 

The main fake news around Covid 19 comes from skeptical groups: "anti-big pharma", "anti-vaccines", "anti-5G", "anti-nuclear", "nature's revenge against man", “anti-tech conspirators” and non-scientific supporters of the use of hydroxychloroquine. 

Erroneous info and false theories spread quickly, presenting a real challenge as everyone is asked to discern truth from rumor and disinformation and be able to know real facts from wrong information. 


The impact of spreading misinformation on people’s health, governments’ tactics to prevent it 

The consequences of misinformation can be tragic: it preempts the usage of healthy behaviors and promotes erroneous practices that increase the spread of the virus and ultimately result in poor physical and mental health outcomes among individuals. The spread of rumors and fake news is critical to a point that speaking about misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme said that ‘we need a vaccine against misinformation”. 


What are social media platforms doing about it? 

For several years, social networks have been fighting against disinformation and fake news on their platforms. 


Twitter limits interactions on “questionable” information, such as retweets, quotes, and likes. In addition, Twitter’s moderation tool now available in the US, Birdwatch, allows users to write notes on tweets, flagging them as misleading or false. They can even add links to their sources of information.     


Google has been working for several years to reduce the share of fake news by working on 4 axes: the revision of its algorithms, fighting low-quality sources, the contextualization of information via recognized sources, and better-quality search raters, which identify low-quality content.  

And in the fall of 2020, amid the onslaught of fake news about covid-19 vaccines, Google rolled out information boards on its research results, directing to authoritative sources on vaccination.  


More than a quarter of the most viewed videos on YouTube are believed to contain misleading information about the Covid-19 pandemic, a sample study by researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada found. That’s why YouTube launched the video fact check. 


Facebook also announced in December 2020 that it intended to remove "false claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been denied by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram". 


Since summer 2020, WhatsApp has marked with “shared many times” messages that have not been composed by a close contact. An integrated functionality then makes it possible to search directly in Google for additional information on this “viral” message. 


To limit the spread of false information about vaccines, TikTok implemented special measures: a "vaccine information center” offering videos from official bodies such as the WHO; setting up a "vaccine" tag to properly detect videos that mention the vaccine; a banner pointing to the information center is displayed on each video. 


Tips to depict fake news 

1.    Check every source of information. 

2.   Check the pictures and videos that are shared on social media groups.

3.   Educate yourself on the subject to be able to judge the truth from rumors and fake news. 


You too can play a role to prevent the spread of misinformation: 

1.    Don’t partake in sharing false information in your online networks. 

2.   When you spot some fake news, politely ask the person who shared it to remove it. 

3.   If they refuse to remove it, report the false information to the platform administrators. 

4.   Spread the truth by publishing truthful facts to counteract false information shared on social media.

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