The World Health Organization has been a dangerous source of misinformation in the COVID-19 pandemic, and Facebook is nudging users to read their info.
Facebook said it is concerned that COVID-19 is not the only plague sweeping across the globe. There has also been an “infodemic” (a term coined during the SARS outbreak) of fake information about the COVID-19 virus, its cures and its origins. Facebook VP of Integrity Guy Rosen wrote “We’re going to start showing messages in News Feed to people who have liked, reacted or commented on harmful misinformation about COVID-19 that we have since removed” in an April 16 company blog. He later added that “These messages will connect people to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO including ones we’ve removed from our platform for leading to imminent physical harm.”
Liberal activist groups see this as a hopeful sign that Facebook will crack down more on freedom of speech in the future with the use of liberal fact-checkers. Even if they claim to be looking for the truth, it may not be found with the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization or WHO’s misinformation on China’s behalf already has enabled the pandemic’s spread around the world. At best, it has both been wrong and overly supportive of communist China. Even as late as mid-January, the WHO was reporting faulty information that would worsen the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
News sources like The Washington Post have turned a blind eye to WHO’s hapless missteps. WHO was too reliant on Chinese authorities, and misinformed nations around the globe as to the nature of the virus as late as January 14. WHO claimed in a tweet:
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.
China’s regime has a history of mass murder and lying about human rights abuses including allegations to the UN that it has been harvesting organs from ethnic minorities, downplaying their disease outbreak so they could blame other countries is not out of character. The USA and various African nations recently condemned China’s mistreatment of African diaspora, allegedly scapegoating them as a coronavirus risk and banning them from businesses.
“This represents one of the first times Facebook will warn a specific set of users who have interacted in the past with false information” Liberal Vox Recode observed, before adding “Experts have argued for years that the social network is rife with misleading information that taints public discourse and asked Facebook to take the retroactive approach.”
Activists are eager to use this crisis in order to have Facebook crack down on freedom of expression. The campaign director at nonprofit activist group Avaaz, Fadi Quran, said in a statement to Recode that“[T]he company has taken a key first step in cleaning up the dangerous infodemic surrounding the coronavirus, but it has the power to do so much more to fully protect people from misinformation.”
Vox made note that several groups see an opportunity to shape how Facebook’s massive user population thinks:
Avaaz is one of several groups that has been pushing for stronger fact-checking and for corrections to be issued more broadly on the platform, not just on content about Covid-19. New research commissioned by the organization shows that Facebook corrections have a major impact in shaping users’ views and can effectively reduce people’s belief in misinformation by 50 percent.
Rosen indeed warned in hs Facebook blog that “[w]e want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook.”
The question remains as to whether Facebook will push these misinformation policies toward other issues as well. Vox also observed how “For companies like Facebook, it’s a lot easier to draw a line in the sand on misinformation about coronavirus topics than around more politically contentious ones, like gun rights, abortion, immigration, or even the 2020 US elections.”