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Facebook will remove fake cures and other harmful misinformation about coronavirus

Facebook said it would base its decisions on advice from “leading global health organizations and local health authorities.” It’s a rare move for the company, which often labels and demotes false content as opposed to removing it — an approach that in the past has prompted criticism from health experts.

In doing so, Facebook also said it would start steering users to more authoritative sources of information from the World Health Organization. Facebook also said it had provided free advertising credits to help organizations run coronavirus education campaigns.

“As the global public health community works to keep people safe, Facebook is supporting their work in several ways, most especially by working to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus and connecting people to helpful information,” Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, said in the post.

The tech giant’s efforts evince the vast challenge facing public health officials around the globe, who must grapple not only with the rapidly spreading coronavirus but also the effects of inaccurate information proliferating quickly, and widely, on social media. That misinformation threatens to scare patients or skew their decisions on whether to seek care.

Early signs of trouble on social media surfaced this weekend: On Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube, some users started sharing incorrect information about the coronavirus and its origins, the number of people affected and the way the illness spread. The information was shared via misleading or false posts and videos receiving thousands of shares and views.

Some of the most pervasive falsehoods on Facebook wrongfully claimed the U.S. government created the coronavirus or peddled inaccurate information about cures that do not actually exist. In response, Facebook began to label these posts and demote them in users’ news feeds, once its fact-checkers debunked the claims.

But some of the misleading posts still appeared to be available on the social-networking site, largely in private groups that came into existence to discuss the coronavirus, The Washington Post first reported Monday.

Twitter and YouTube have grappled with similar myths on their services. On Wednesday, though, Twitter said it had not seen “significant coordinated attempts to spread disinformation at scale about this issue.” The company estimated its users had sent more than 15 million tweets over the past few weeks related to the coronavirus. Users searching for it on the site are served with a link to official information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

YouTube, meanwhile, has not yet taken down some videos peddling false information, including cures that do not exist. On Thursday, the company stressed in a statement it is prioritizing authoritative results in searches for the coronavirus. On search, Google also said it had rolled out a special link that directs people to WHO.

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