The False News of COVID-19

There have been two outbreaks this year, COVID-19 & false news.

Social Media being used as a means to spread false information is a growing issue across all platforms. In today’s society, Instagram in particular has the ability to create movements, organise events for thousands of people and even be used to create leverage against government agencies by civilians. Without social media events like the Black Lives Matter protests & PETA protests would not have been possible or been able to spread awareness. There is no doubt that social media is an extremely influential part of everyday life so what happens when it is used to spread falsehoods and unofficial information? The effects of this can be detrimental to entire communities and would only get worse unless those in charge of these networks intervene. This has been the case in the instance of social media platforms busting myths and false information surrounding COVID-19. With hazy information surrounding COVID-19 being spread on Instagram daily, fact-checking softwares and moderators such as Politifact and AFP Fact Check were implemented to ensure these falsities didn’t spread and were removed or listed as false to protect those who didn’t know otherwise. From misguided theories, fake remedies and false advice, social media has been a double edged sword in the fight against the spread of the Coronavirus. As a result of the distorted information being spread surrounding COVID-19, social media officials and moderators have had a major role to play in the prevention and debunking of this false content that is being spread on their platforms.

What information is being spread?

When news of the Coronavirus pandemic arose during early 2020, various publications and people took to social media to declare cures and conspiracy theories surrounding the virus. 

Some of these theories included:

  • 5G causes COVID-19.
  • The virus was created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
  • Coronavirus is a bio weapon created in a research lab.
  • Drinking bleach is a way to cure the Coronavirus.
The conspiracies and false information can have detrimental effects to the wider community (via The Guardian)

As a result of these theories being spread across social media and potentially being at risk to those less informed or aware, social media platforms all stepped in to ensure that disclaimers and fact checks were provided in order to ensure that people were aware that the information was not as trustworthy as official sources. The fact checking of these claims were imperative as it allowed many users to express their freedom of speech whilst still providing a barrier that ensured that those reading understood that the information is not as reputable as information from official organisations such as the World Health Organization and governmental agencies.

What action is being taken?

To prevent the spread of fake news on Instagram, the platform has been working with 45 various third-party fact-checkers to ensure that users are aware that not all information they find on the app may not be from reputable sources. This is done in the form of a screen that appears prior to the viewer opening the image and acts as a disclaimer with quotes from fact-checkers as to why the image or text may not be reliable. The company also said in a blog post “We will also start to downrank content in feed and Stories that has been rated false by third-party-fact checkers.”, this has been done as a means to combat false information being spread about the virus on the media platforms whilst still ensuring that freedom of speech is not stripped from the person posting. The platform has also been working to ensure that posts & accounts spreading blatant lies and misinformation are being removed to protect those who may be susceptible to the misguided information they’re spreading. Instagram also announced in it’s blog post that it would be removing all COVID-19 posts from recommendations unless it was being shared by an official health organization, this was done to minimise the spread of deceptive information. These are the main courses of action being taken by Instagram to limit the spread of false info regarding COVID-19 and promote reputable sources.

Intagram & Facebook’s False information disclaimer (via The Verge)

The Benefits

These new strategies implemented by Instagram have led to an array of benefits for both users and the platform. Most significantly it is a way to keep users safe and aware about the risks of false or deceitful information of the platform, fact-checking is a way for Instagram to filter out conspiracy theories and false cures for the Coronavirus such as drinking bleach and separate them from facts and real methods of treatment put forth by health organizations which may ultimately save lives. The utilisation of fact-checking is also useful further down the line and it has been noted that similar methods will be used during elections to ensure that false information and “fake news” also won’t be spread on platforms without a disclaimer.

One of the instances of false misleading information regarding COVID-19 being spread on Instagram (via ABC)

The Restrictions

With over 95 million Instagram posts made daily some posts containing false news are bound to fall through the cracks. As a whole, the fact-checking on the platform does a substantial job filtering through posts and removing those deemed false, however it is not perfect, as some posts that are factual can occasionally be censored and labeled as incorrect, this is due to the influx of posts on the platform daily this is a common recurrence. When posts are deemed as false they are also removed from recommendations and the explore page meaning that falsely flagged images can get lost in the shuffle. To limit this from happening Instagram has made it so that users can appeal the fact-check and ensure that their post is receiving the correct exposure if it is factual.

The Bottom Line

It is obvious that Instagram has made conscious efforts to minimise the spread of deceptive information regarding COVID-19 on their platforms which is always a step in the right direction. A survey conducted by the Washington Post found that one-fourth of the respondents fact-checked Coronavirus misinformation found online themselves and two thirds agreed that they should respond when they see someone sharing false information regarding the virus, this is a promising sign for the fight against false news regarding the virus. The fact checking moderators are an important way to keep viewers alerted on the risk of misinformation whilst the removal of accounts spreading deceptive information is an important way of removing the risk entirely. However these new strategies imposed have also come with a few challenges including the risk that a reliance on computers as a means to fact-check and moderate posts may lead to inaccuracies & discrepancies on what is getting shown or censored and with large amounts of posts being made daily it is difficult for fact-checking workers to physically sift through and check all posts on the platform. All in all though, Instagram has made an important effort using social media to ensure that information being posted on their platforms regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is safe and from reputable sources.

Reference List

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