Social media companies partnering with health authorities to combat misinformation on coronavirus

Social networks step up strategy for combatting COVID-19 misinformation.

Last week, the social media app TikTok, popular with youths and young adults, announced it would be partnering with the WHO in an effort to spread veritable information on the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in addition to best public health practices.

WHO posted its first TikTok last Friday on measures people can adopt to help protect themselves and others from getting the coronavirus. That video has racked up more than 27 million views to date.

"COVID-19 outbreak has seen a massive 'infodemic'—an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it," the WHO told ABC News.

"Therefore, WHO is working with various social media platforms, including TikTok, to help us reach the right audience (the right community, the right age group, etc.), as well as to detect spread of misinformation on the new coronavirus. We understand that different platforms might have their specific audience, hence important to make trustworthy information available where people are looking for it."

Since the outbreak of the virus in China last December, unverified videos and rumors have circulated widely on platforms including TikTok, Twitter and Facebook as well as WeChat and Weibo, which are very popular in China.

Along with TikTok, Facebook and Twitter have announced strategies attempting to establish a firewall against the "infodemic" the WHO and the agency's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have underscored.

"We're focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement this week. "If you search for coronavirus on Facebook, you'll see a pop-up that directs you to the World Health Organization or your local health authority for the latest information."

In addition, Facebook claims it is "removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations."

This move appears parallel to its past efforts to rout false news stories and disinformation in light of the 2016 presidential campaign debacle by employing third-party fact-checkers to vet and verify sources.

Twitter published a plan Wednesday to protect the public from misinformation on its platform.

"We continue to expand our dedicated search prompt feature to ensure that when you come to the service for information about Covid-19, you are met with credible, authoritative content at the top of your search experience," Twitter said in a statement. "In each country where we have launched the initiative, we have partnered with the national public health agency or the World Health Organization (@WHO) directly."

Twitter also said it's setting additional travel restrictions on its workforce to help stem unnecessary transmission and encouraging international employees to work from home.

There are simple steps users can take themselves to combat mis- and disinformation.

Consider the following questions before sharing dubious content:

  • Is this the original account, article or piece of content?
  • Who shared this or created it?
  • When was this created?
  • What account is sharing this? When was the account created? Do they share things from all over the world at all times during the day and night? Could this be a bot?
  • Why was this shared?
  • It's important to remember that the creators of disinformation purposely make content that is designed to trigger an emotional response, and to avoid those pitfalls if possible.

    ABC News' Erin Calabrese contributed to this report.=