The rapid spread of the coronavirus in China and around the world has sent Facebook, Google and Twitter scrambling to prevent a different sort of malady — a surge of half-truths and outright falsehoods about the deadly outbreak.
The three Silicon Valley tech giants long have struggled to curtail dangerous health disinformation, including posts, photos and videos that seek to scare people away from much-needed vaccines.
But the companies face their great test in the wake of a potential pandemic, now that the coronavirus has infected 2,800 people in China, killing at least 82, while sickening another five in the United States.
Already, Facebook and its peers have tried to battle back pervasive conspiracy theories, including a hoax that wrongly claims U.S. government officials secretly created or obtained a patent for the illness.
Some of the misinformation has circulated through private Facebook groups — channels that are hard for researchers to monitor in real-time — that came into existence after news first broke about the coronavirus.
“Oregano Oil Proves Effective Against Coronavirus,” read one post that had been shared at least 2,000 times across multiple groups by Monday. The original post is a decade old, originating on a holistic care website — and scientists have said there is no such cure for coronavirus.
Nine organizations that partner with Facebook on fact checking have rated multiple coronavirus claims as false, including those peddling fake treatments, the company said Monday.
Facebook said it has labeled the inaccuracies and lowered their rank in users’ daily feeds.
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Twitter, meanwhile, has started steering some users searching for coronavirus-related hashtags to more authoritative sources. And Google-owned YouTube said its algorithm also prioritizes more credible sources.
Still, a number of videos there — including one with more than 430,000 views — pushed dubious information about the origin of the coronavirus and its means of transmission.