In an attempt to fight fake news online about the coronavirus, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is working with top social networks to help guide users to accurate information.
As Sky News reports, those who search for “coronavirus” on Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok while in the UK will be directed to the NHS website. The companies are also banning accounts that spread false information.
Which accounts should you trust? According to The Guardian, the NHS is working to get 800+ accounts verified—from hospital trusts to local commissioning groups—so people know they’re trustworthy. “The NHS has already been battling coronavirus fake news, from working to take down false Twitter accounts to speaking out against misleading treatments being promoted by homeopaths online,” Simon Stevens, the health service’s chief executive, tells the BBC.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the social network is “removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations. We’re also blocking people from running ads that try to exploit the situation—for example, claiming that their product can cure the disease.” Those rules apply to Instagram, too.
On Google, the company is expanding its Knowledge Panels for health conditions to include a COVID-19 panel, CEO Sundar Pichai writes in a blog post. “On YouTube, we are working to quickly remove any content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment.” The company has also blocked “tens of thousands” of ads that exploit the coronavirus over the last six weeks, and provided the World Health Organization (WHO) and government agencies $25 million in donated ad credit.
Disinformation—or information that is knowingly spread, despite being false, in order to fool others—differs from misinformation, which is when incorrect information is unknowingly shared. Both could be a problem; at the RSA Conference, for example, the US State Department said thousands of fake, Russia-linked social accounts are spreading lies about the coronavirus, though the social networks pushed back on that.
And as Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at social media intelligence firm Graphika, tells The Guardian, “overt” false stories have been spreading, but he has not seen a “systematic and planned campaign.” More likely, Nimmo says, these rumors are the work of opportunistic trolls.