Facebook to Alert Users Exposed to ‘Harmful’ COVID-19 Misinformation

“Stopping the spread of misinformation and harmful content about COVID-19 on our apps is also critically important,” Facebook VP Guy Rosen says

Facebook on Thursday said it would start alerting users who have interacted with “harmful” misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak, with the company rolling out notifications in News Feed in the coming weeks for those who may have seen a post with false information.

The tech giant, in a blog post on the matter, said it has “directed over 2 billion people to resources from the WHO and other health authorities” via its recently-launched COVID-19 Information Center.

“But connecting people to credible information is only half the challenge,” Facebook VP Guy Rosen said in the post. “Stopping the spread of misinformation and harmful content about COVID-19 on our apps is also critically important.”

Rosen said Facebook has started reducing the distribution of content that has been rated “false” by its group of fact-checkers, while also adding “warning labels” to content that may contain false information. About 40 million pieces of content last month received the warning label. And hundreds of thousands of posts containing “harmful misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm” were also removed, according to a separate post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, including posts claiming drinking bleach can cure the virus.

On top of that, Facebook will now start showing notifications to users who have “liked, reacted or commented on harmful misinformation about COVID-19 that we have since removed. The notifications will be added to their news feeds.  The company will direct users to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO, Rosen added.

Facebook’s decision comes a few years after the company was heavily scrutinized by some critics, who claimed the company didn’t do enough to police its platform during the 2016 U.S. election. Since then, the company has taken a more proactive approach in removing what it deems misinformation.

Last month, Facebook launched its coronavirus information center at the top of user news feeds. Zuckerberg has engaged in weekly Facebook Live chats with top medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. The company also has committed $100 million to help newsrooms impacted by the pandemic.