Novel coronavirus (6) BBC: Coronavirus fake news spreading fast

26 February, 2020

Extracts below. Full text here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-51646309

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26 February 18:00h GMT

One popular conspiracy theory online is that the virus was engineered in a lab and deliberately released.

Many social media sites such as Facebook are having to up their game when it comes to misinformation around the new coronavirus.

As the coronavirus - or to be precise Covid-19 - spreads around the world, getting accurate information about the disease becomes ever more important.

And in the social media age, that puts a heavy responsibility on the likes of Facebook and YouTube.

These are the platforms that billions now rely on for news and they are already providing fertile territory for those wanting to spread misinformation. On Facebook, it is in groups opposing vaccines and those campaigning against 5G mobile phone networks that scare stories appear most likely to take hold...

Another popular theory is that the virus was engineered in a lab and deliberately released by, take your pick, the Chinese or American government. Over on the Facebook 5G and microwave radiation group, an article from Technocracy News claims: "It is becoming pretty clear that the Hunan coronovirus is an engineered bio-weapon that was either purposely or accidentally released."...

To be fair to Facebook, it appears to have upped its game when it comes to combating misinformation. Search for "coronavirus" on its platform and the top results will be reliable information from sites such as the World Health Organization (WHO). If you find an anti-vaccination group you want to join, a pop-up message appears saying: "Learn why the World Health Organization recommends vaccinations to prevent many diseases."

YouTube too appears to be trying to calm fears, with a WHO banner ad appearing above any videos about the virus. But on at least one conspiracy theory video, adverts are still appearing, meaning that the site's owner Google is still profiting from misinformation.

Facebook says that as well as promoting accurate information, it has taken steps to combat the spread of misinformation about the virus. Its third-party fact-checkers investigate dubious claims and when they rate information as false, the company limits its spread across Facebook and Instagram...

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Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org