Anxiety in the face of the disease, fear in the face of the speed of its spread and sometimes misunderstanding in the face of the authorities’ decisions to stop it. This is the explosive and global cocktail faced by the main social networks since the appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Health-related issues have always been conducive to false or biased information on the Internet, and coronavirus is no exception. The large digital platforms at the head of the most popular social networks in the Western world have however decreed – with unprecedented responsiveness, coordination and voluntarism – general mobilization to curb the phenomenon.
It is clear that large-scale efforts by technology platforms can be a definitive aid in containing the pandemic and save thousands if not millions of lives.
As a part of the common pact, all the major digital platforms decided to protect any spread of rumor’s or misleading information regarding the pandemic. Typing the term “coronavirus” in the search engine of Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube automatically brings up links that point to the government or World Health Organization (WHO) site. The same goes for the “Covid-19” request.
Here are some of the other measures taken by these tech giants to control the spread of Coronavirus:
Beyond this highlighting of verified information, several social networks have taken steps to limit the hoax. “We are removing false information and conspiracy theories identified by major health organizations. We are also blocking ads that are trying to take advantage of the crisis, for example by claiming that their product can cure the disease, ” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. The social media platform has also allowed free ads space to the WHO for spreading the right information related to COVID-19.
Same strategy at YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of the American giant explained that they are taking steps to quickly delete any content claiming to defeat the coronavirus instead of medical treatment.
The online video giant has, however, hesitated over what to do with advertising. YouTube first removed all forms of advertising on videos addressing the coronavirus, in accordance with its rules on “sensitive events” before reversing on March 11 – which raises fears of a video accelerator sensationalist and is deceptive. This while Google has decided, in general, to block many advertisements surfing on the fear of the coronavirus.
On Instagram, a search for “coronavirus” shows the official WHO accounts as the first result. The ban on all advertising for hydroalcoholic masks or gels was announced a few weeks ago. On Instagram, users who type keywords related to Covid-19 into the search bar will see educational messages and links to information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other local institutions. The platform also promotes donations to NGOs, with a “sticker” to indicate legitimate organizations with financial needs. More fun, stickers reminding basic hygiene gestures will be made available, and it will be possible to easily create, via these same stickers, a link to the donation page of organizations fighting against Covid-19. Finally, all the accounts to which you subscribe that use the logo “Stay at Home” in their Story will be integrated into a large common chain, like a kind of uninterrupted stream of videos promoting social distancing.
Apple is putting the whole package to alert and informs its users about the urgent need to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The Apple Music, Apple TV and iTunes Store applications display a banner on their home page to view a video message of public interest. The tech-giant has also cleaned up some applications of its platform. Apple has also closed most of its stores and has limited the trials of Airpods and Apple watches to support social distancing and spread of the disease.
Initially, it started with limiting the number of masks and sanitizers that can be sold per person. It is also monitoring and controlling the price hike by sellers for essential products and warning them. The eCommerce giant is in the middle of a large virtual cleaning operation to remove all the protective masks sold at excessive prices. Many shops, taking advantage of the fear caused by the epidemic to sell masks at exorbitant prices, have received a letter from Amazon telling them that their products are “not in agreement” with the pricing policy of the web merchant. Many offers have also been taken offline.
This platform is also a particularly effective vector for misinformation linked to the coronavirus, particularly in India and Nigeria. Since the exchanges are encrypted, they cannot be read or analyzed by the company, which belongs to Facebook, and conspiracy or false ideas about the virus can hardly be detected.
India has started a WhatsApp chatbot called MyGov Corona Helpdesk to offer instant and authoritative answers to any queries related to the disease. The World Health Organisation has also released a similar helpline – WHO Health Alert to provide latest news, tips and findings about the pandemic.
These digital giants are relentlessly tracking down false information, dubious miracle cures and deceptions of all kinds. It is also the responsibility of citizens across the globe to trust only authentic sources of information and avoid sending or sharing rumours. Ending the panic and access to the right information will act as strong armoury to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.