By Leigha O’Reilly Hughes
Mis- and disinformation has always been a big problem for social media, due to how easy it is to spread around. This problem has continued to grow since COVID-19 entered everybody’s world in 2020. Since then, false claims, conspiracy theories and disinformation about the virus remain online.
Even though Meta, formally known as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide a space to inform people about the virus as well as start up conversations, it also allows fake news and misinformation to spread.
The World Health Organisation, which is the United Nations agency that connects nations, partners and people to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable so everyone can attain the highest level of health, have also spoken out about the spread of misinformation regarding Covid-19 on social media.
“As the world responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, we face the challenge of an overabundance of information related to the virus. Some of this information may be false and potentially harmful,” says the World Health Organisation. (The WHO)
“Inaccurate information spreads widely and at speed, making it more difficult for the public to identify verified from trusted sources.”
More than half of Gen Z and Millennials (59.1%) are extremely aware of false news around COVID-19 and are able to recognise it frequently. However, persuading people to actively resist it, rather than letting it slip, is a difficulty, with many (35.1%) simply ignoring it, according to the WHO.
Social media platforms are taking it upon themselves to help tackle the spread of misinformation on their sites.
Meta has stated that it has since removed over 20 million posts since the beginning of the pandemic and Instagram as they violated rules on Covid-19 misinformation.
The company implemented a direct link on any post that mentions Covid-19, vaccines or the pandemic that brings the viewer to the COVID-19 information centre. They have also stated that they are banning repeat offenders who spread the misinformation.
Twitter has also put in place guidelines when it comes to spreading information about Covid-19.
“We’ve observed the emergence of persistent conspiracy theories, alarmist rhetoric unfounded in research or credible reporting, and a wide range of unsubstantiated rumours, which left uncontextualized can prevent the public from making informed decisions regarding their health, and puts individuals, families and communities at risk,” says Twitter.
Twitter states that they will label or remove false or misleading information about the virus and the vaccine.
However, finding misinformation on social media regarding Covid-19 is not difficult. It is easy to find tweets spreading misinformation that are not flagged or taken down before people can view them.
Below are examples of easily found tweets that spread misinformation about Covid-19 and how it can affect people.
Newsguard, an organisation which monitors internet misinformation, identifies accounts, sites and organisations that were still spreading conspiracy theories and fake news about Covid-19 but were still online to earn thousands of new followers.
Newsguard also stated that even though some of these posts included labels offering links to coronavirus information, it did not state to the users whether the post was trustworthy or not.
This shows that even though social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have implemented tools to help identify when Covid-19 is talked about and state that they take action towards those posting fake news, they still contribute to the spread as false information is easily found.