Facebook will show alerts to people who have previously interacted with misinformation about coronavirus – in the social network’s latest move to counter the spread of false information about the pandemic.
The message, which will appear as an alert in users’ News Feed, will be shown to anyone who has liked, reacted or commented on “harmful misinformation about COVID-19“, the company announced.
The alert is expected to appear in the next few weeks.
The message neither directly refutes any claims nor tells the user which piece of misinformation they have seen, but instead suggests they “help friends and family avoid false information” by sharing a link to a list of common rumours compiled by the World Health Organisation.
In a statement, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the alert would cover “misinformation related to COVID-19 that we’ve since removed” and connect users with “accurate information”.
Facebook says it has removed “hundreds of thousands of pieces of COVID-19-related misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm”, thanks to a combination of automated detection and work by third party fact checkers.
These include claims that physical distancing does not help prevent the spread of coronavirus and – as of last week – false claims about the role of 5G in causing COVID-19.
The decision to warn users who have interacted with misinformation comes after a campaign by activist group Avaaz, which has released a report claiming that millions of Facebook’s users continue to be exposed to coronavirus misinformation without any warning from the platform.
Avaaz researchers analysed more than 100 pieces of Facebook coronavirus misinformation which were shared 1.7 million times and viewed an estimated 117 million times, despite being debunked by independent fact-checkers.
These included false claims that people with black skin are more resistant to the coronavirus and that chlorine dioxide cures the virus.
A Facebook spokesperson praised Avaaz’s work on COVID-19 misinformation, but told Sky News the posts were not representative of the community on Facebook and that the findings “don’t reflect the work we’ve done”.
In order to combat misinformation, Facebook currently directs people to information from the World Health Organisation, as well as reducing the reach of posts with information rated false by fact-checkers and adding warning labels to them.
According to Mr Zuckerberg, in March the company “displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to COVID-19, based on 4,000 articles reviewed by independent fact-checkers”.
When people saw those warning labels, Mr Zuckerberg said “95% of the time they did not go on to view the original content”.
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Fadi Quran, campaign director at Avaaz said: “Facebook sits at the epicentre of the misinformation crisis.
“But the company is turning a critical corner today to clean up this toxic information ecosystem, becoming the first social media platform to alert all users who have been exposed to coronavirus misinformation and directing them to life-saving facts.”
Facebook also announced it would be adding a new section debunking coronavirus myths to its COVID-19 Information Centre.
Called Get The Facts, these articles are selected by the social network’s news curation team, but are currently only available in the US.