Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) is fighting misinformation about China’s fast-spreading coronavirus by taking down misleading posts and ads. The company said in a blog post that it’s working to help limit the spread of misinformation by removing content about the virus “with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities.” Facebook says such content would violate its ban on misinformation leading to “physical harm.”
Rumors about the coronavirus have spread widely on social networks. There have been hoaxes about its source, its spread, and how to treat it. Some of the misleading claims include a connection to biological warfare and the Chinese government, conspiracy theories that vaccines have already been manufactured, and wild exaggerations about the number of sick and dead.
Facebook says it will focus on providing helpful information to people. The company will limit the spread of posts debunked by its third-party fact checkers and remove posts that discourage people from getting medical treatment or make potentially dangerous claims about cures. Users who search for information on the virus will receive a pop-up providing authoritative information and guidance from the World Health Organization will appear at the top of Facebook users’ news feeds.
Facebook is also taking similar measures for certain related hashtags on Instagram. Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, said, “We will also block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram, and are conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much of this content as we can. Not all of these steps are fully in place. It will take some time to roll them out across our platforms.”
The coronavirus outbreak has stoked a wave of anti-China sentiment around the globe. About 12,000 people have been infected in China and the illness has spread to at least 25 other countries and regions. So far, 213 deaths have been reported in China, with most of the deaths in the central province of Hubei. China’s central city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is now a cordoned-off zone.
Other internet companies have announced their own efforts to stem the flow of misinformation about the disease. Twitter users are now given a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on coronavirus when they search for information. YouTube and Google say they’re promoting authoritative information about the virus to the top of search results. TikTok and Pinterest are actively removing false coronavirus content. Chinese messaging app WeChat said that it is removing posts containing coronavirus-related misinformation.