What COVID-19 safety features have social media platforms implemented?

In the beginning of March 2020, many social media platforms including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube said that they will join forces to combat fraud and misinformation about the virus.

Keep reading to find out what the various platforms are doing to make sure that users stay safe and well informed when visiting their apps and websites, and how you can access these services.

Facebook

Facebook developed a ‘COVID-19 Information Center’ which aims to help users with useful information and tips. This is in addition to existing measures introduced to protect users from scams, inappropriate ads and sources of disinformation. To access this feature, simply tap on the menu bar on your Facebook app and you’ll see the ‘COVID-19 Information Centre’ box on the left corner of your screen.

Furthermore, the social media network has banned ads which attempt to exploit the pandemic by selling ‘miracle cures’ or personal protective equipment such as face masks at inflated price rates.

As part of its third-party fact-checking initiative, Facebook is labelling coronavirus misinformation with ‘fact check’ labels. The platform has also been removing conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 that have been flagged by global health organisations, as well as providing the World Health Organisation (WHO) with free ads.

Another feature developed on its Messenger platform is a Coronavirus Community Hub, which provides tips and resources to help users recognise scams and misinformation, preventing their spread. Messenger also provides free messaging tools to all government and health organisations’ pages.

Facebook introduced a Community Help feature which allows users to request or offer help to their neighbours such as volunteering to deliver groceries or donating to a local food back.

Google

If you search for something on Google and use ‘COVID-19’ or ‘coronavirus’ within your phrase, you’ll notice an “SOS Alert” banner, followed by news from mainstream outlets and information from recognised health organisations and governments.

If you’ve allowed your location to be discovered when using Google to search for COVID-19 news, you’ll notice a map on the right which shows you the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in your region.

Google is also blocking ads that aim to capitalise on the pandemic, including instituting a temporary ban on all ads for medical masks and respirators, in line with its sensitive events policy.

The search engine is removing misleading information and fake reviews about healthcare locations from Google Maps, using a combination of automated and manual review systems. It also has a fact-check explorer which lets anyone search for articles tagged as fact checks.

In partnership with the US government, Google launched a website with information and resources about the pandemic, which includes helpful tips, a map of areas affected by the outbreak and links to local health agencies. The website is available in different languages.

YouTube

YouTube has started publishing COVID-19 video news on its homepage. Similarly to Facebook, it has introduced information panels from the WHO or other national health organisations which appear when you search for coronavirus. It’s also providing governments as well as non-governmental organisations with free ad space and removing harmful medical misinformation videos.

In April, the company also announced that it would tighten its rules to ban conspiracy videos that link coronavirus to 5G. This was in response to a live-streamed interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke, in which he falsely linked the technology to the current health crisis.

Twitter

Twitter also directs users to national health organisations when they search for coronavirus on the platform. It has placed a ban on tweets that can put people at a higher risk of transmitting the disease and on tweets that deny official guidance, including encouraging fake or ineffective treatments. Twitter has also banned all ads that aim to take advantage of the pandemic.

Furthermore, it has been working with recognised health authorities to verify accounts that are sharing credible COVID-19 updates. It’s doing this by identifying expert accounts through email addresses associated with authoritative institutions.

Instagram

The Facebook-owned photo sharing platform is blocking and restricting coronavirus hashtags and is redirecting users to public health organistions. When you search for #coronavirus, Instagram displays a link to the National Health Service (if you’re based in the UK) where you can get information about the virus.

The platform is also sending possibly misleading posts to its fact-checking partners for review and has banned users from searching for filters with COVID-19 themes, unless they were developed in partnership with trusted healthcare organisations to raise awareness about the disease. Alongside this, the platform has added educational resources in Instagram Search, as well as stickers promoting accurate information.

WhatsApp

In response to the coronavirus, the messaging app launched  WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, in collaboration with the WHO, UNICEF and UNDP to keep its global users informed about the pandemic and help limit the spread of fake news. The WHO launched a chat bot on WhatsApp to help users get accurate information. The service is available in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish. Furthermore, the platform has expanded its collaboration with governments to provide accurate information on coronavirus, with the UK and India teaming up with the messaging app to provide information services.

WhatsApp has imposed a strict limit on message forwarding, so if a message or link has been forwarded several times, users will only be able to send it to one chat at a time. This measure has been introduced to slow the spread of misinformation on the app.

These are the ways that some of the most widely-used social media applications are combating the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus and helping users stay informed by pointing them to credible sources.

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