Tech giants struggle to stem the ‘infodemic’ of the false Coronavirus claims

Governments, NGOs, and mainstream media sources dominate the search feed when you look up coronavirus. Algorithms and user-generated content are out; gatekeepers and fact-checking are in. Silicon Valley has responded to the infodemic with aggressive intervention. Across the social web, i.e., on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and Pinterest, among others, the search results related to the coronavirus, are similarly predetermined. For example, Instagram delivers a pop-up urge for US users to go to the website for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They have competed and tried to provide responsible and reliable information on the Covid-19, but misinformation continues to spread mainly on social media.

Research by Oxford’s Reuters Institute found that around 88% of the claims appeared on the various social media platforms when compared with 9% on television or 8% on different news outlets. According to a research study, about 30% of US adults believe that COVID-19 was developed in a lab. A conspiracy theory vaguely linking the 5G to the pandemic has led to severe consequences, like threats and harassment against the telecom engineers and petrol bomb attacks on the telephone poles. Some of the radical and necessary steps undertaken by the tech companies include Twitter’s new policy to remove any kind of misinformation that contradicts the official public health advice and WhatsApp’s strict new rules and limits on message forwarding.

It is also relatively straightforward and easy for the platforms to select trusted sources of authoritative information without appearing politically biased like the WHO, NHS, CDC, etc. Even though the scientific nature of the crisis might lessen the external political pressures over how to moderate speech, it can also bring with it a few challenges. Another complicated factor is that due to the lack of information on the virus, even trustworthy sources are unable to provide accurate information.

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