Facebook defends approach to stopping coronavirus disinformation

Facebook says more than one billion people have been directed to official health guidance on coronavirus by features on the social network’s platforms.

The company said, in addition, more than 100 million people had then clicked through links to resources from authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the spread of Covid-19.

In recent weeks, Facebook has added prompts and a Coronavirus Information Centre to user feeds on Facebook and Instagram in an effort to promote official advice on stopping the spread of the virus.

Social media companies have been accused of failing to adequately prevent disinformation appearing about the spread of Covid-19, including false adverts for protective equipment and treatments for the disease.

The Government has created a specialist unit which is working with social media firms to monitor and block the spread of such content – while services such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are placing official advice at the top of search results linked to the illness.

Former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg, now the social network’s head of global affairs and communications, said Facebook has “been working to connect people to accurate information and taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading”.

“This is an evolving crisis, so as world health officials issue new guidance and warnings about Covid-19, we’ll continue working with them to ensure people have access to accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps,” he said.

Facebook has also announced the launch of a new fact-checking initiative with Reuters, as part of the social network’s global Third-Party Fact-Checking Programme.

The initiative sees fact-checking firms work with Facebook to help identify misleading content posted to social media and debunk false claims.

Facebook said the new scheme would add to its existing partnership with Full Fact in the UK.

The announcement comes on the same day the Government revealed it was launching a new WhatsApp service to offer people guidance.

The service will provide information on topics such as coronavirus prevention and symptoms, the latest number of cases in the UK, advice on staying at home, travel advice and dispel myths around the virus.

People will be able to access the free service by adding 07860064422 to their phone contacts and then message the word “hi” in a WhatsApp message to get started.

The spread of disinformation on WhatsApp has been raised as a concern by some, with its encrypted messaging making it impossible to track the spread of content which may be false.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, said of the new WhatsApp scheme: “This service will help us ensure the public has a trusted source for the right information about coronavirus, updated with the latest public health guidance and providing assurance that they are not misled by any of the false information circulating.”