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How health officials and social media are teaming up to fight the coronavirus 'infodemic'

Brian Stelter speaks with Aleksandra Kuzmanovic of the W.H.O. about the measures being taken to combat the "infodemic" of health misinformation on social media. Dr. Seema Yasmin shares best practices for newsrooms that are covering the coronavirus.

Posted: Mar 2, 2020 8:41 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2020 8:41 AM

As health officials in a growing number of countries fight to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, they're also working to stem a secondary issue that the World Health Organization is calling an "infodemic."

The WHO defines an infodemic as "an overabundance 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 problem is aided by the ease and speed with which false or misleading information can spread on social media.

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, emerged in China in January and now has spread to more than 85,000 global cases with infections on every continent except for Antarctica. As the disease has spread, so too have false claims online about how it began, the number of people infected and promises of magical cures.

"In this particular case, with COVID-19, because of the growth of social media platforms in recent years, information is spreading faster than the virus itself," Aleksandra Kuzmanovic, social media manager for the WHO, told CNN's Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" Sunday.

In an effort to help people sort through the sometimes overwhelming amount of information online, Kuzmanovic said the organization is working directly with social media companies to ensure users are directed to trusted sources. Now, when social media users on a number of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, search for "coronavirus," they are directed first to information from either the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control or their national health ministry.

The WHO is also working to produce information in a range of languages as the outbreak spreads around the world.

But as digital misinformation campaigns become increasingly sophisticated, the WHO and other world health officials should be doing more, said Seema Yasmin, director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative and a former officer with the Centers for Disease Control's Epidemic Intelligence Service.

"We've seen the spread of rumors and anti-science messages during Ebola, during Zika," Yasmin said. "The anti-vaccine movement is not new, and WHO's response often has been, 'Oh, there's a really bad outbreak of measles in Eastern Europe, it's okay, we're going to disseminate pamphlets.' That's not enough when the anti-science messages are sophisticated, targeting vulnerable populations and really tailoring anti-science messages to groups that believe them."

Yasmin urged news organizations to put resources toward doing health and science journalism and encouraged health officials to be proactive in fighting the ongoing issue of health misinformation online.

Some social media platforms have independently taken further steps to curb misinformation and panic surrounding coronavirus.

Facebook said several weeks ago it would remove content with bogus cures or other false claims about coronavirus or posts that could create confusion about where accurate information can be found.

The company will "remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them," Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook's head of health, said in a blog post published the same day the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a public health emergency.

Last week, a Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business that the platform is working with its fact-checking partners to debunk false claims about the virus. Once Facebook posts and links are fact-checked and found to be false, the spokesperson said, the platform "dramatically" cuts their distribution. People who see this content, try to share it, or already have, are alerted that it's false.

The company also says it will prohibit ads related to coronavirus that are misleadeing or aimed at profiting off of the panic surrounding the outbreak.

"For example, ads for face masks that imply they are the only ones still available or claim that they are guaranteed to prevent the virus from spreading will not be allowed to run on our platforms," the company said in a blog post.

Those efforts point to a shift in Facebook's response to false information on its platform in recent years, according to Steven Levy, editor-at-large for Wired magazine and author of the new book, "Facebook: The Inside Story."

"In 2015, some people tried really actively to get them to take down the (anti-vaccination) stuff and it did not resonate with them," Levy said. "They weren't dealing at all with the concept of what we now call 'fake news.' But now they're much more sensitive."

However, Levy pointed out that the company's reaction is still often dependent on public opinion.

"What seems to happen is that when there's enough of an outcry, when Facebook's practices are exposed, you know, people say, 'Wow this can't happen,' Facebook will step in and say, 'I guess we have to make an exception for this.'"

Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 590211

Reported Deaths: 9310
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion815581297
Lake44306666
Allen31919541
Hamilton28371304
St. Joseph26766371
Elkhart24098341
Vanderburgh18643213
Tippecanoe17422121
Johnson14496284
Porter14399160
Hendricks13870241
Madison10561212
Vigo10483171
Clark10240130
Monroe9076108
Delaware8836132
LaPorte8771155
Howard7897138
Kosciusko787277
Warrick643890
Hancock638797
Bartholomew626694
Floyd6150105
Wayne5933157
Grant5818110
Dubois544372
Boone534367
Morgan516291
Marshall494184
Henry493664
Cass471760
Noble460557
Dearborn458444
Jackson414745
Shelby402179
Lawrence380575
Clinton364539
Gibson356556
DeKalb337363
Montgomery334851
Harrison328542
Knox327839
Miami309843
Steuben306340
Adams295235
Whitley294125
Wabash293045
Ripley292345
Putnam284847
Huntington283557
Jasper282433
White267538
Daviess261672
Jefferson250738
Fayette242348
Decatur242182
Greene233360
Posey232326
Wells229447
LaGrange224161
Clay217932
Scott216937
Randolph208340
Jennings192535
Sullivan189031
Spencer181917
Fountain179725
Washington177118
Starke171341
Jay162821
Owen159537
Fulton159229
Carroll152115
Orange151433
Rush149918
Perry147227
Vermillion144933
Franklin143433
Parke12908
Tipton128232
Pike113625
Blackford107522
Pulaski95237
Newton89421
Brown85530
Benton84310
Crawford7579
Martin70013
Warren6587
Switzerland6205
Union6113
Ohio4677
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 826754

Reported Deaths: 10200
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin97493705
Cuyahoga821781012
Hamilton61350439
Montgomery41700399
Summit33399726
Lucas30111597
Butler29721228
Stark24811400
Warren18917139
Lorain18086212
Mahoning16758335
Lake15365135
Clermont15160104
Delaware1382177
Licking12679132
Trumbull12401302
Fairfield1218480
Greene11631133
Medina11128165
Clark10608264
Wood9964154
Allen9511126
Portage8867105
Miami886573
Richland8790116
Marion7319113
Tuscarawas7142174
Columbiana7085124
Pickaway702850
Wayne6781164
Muskingum671242
Erie5886118
Hancock537890
Ross530287
Scioto519662
Geauga483555
Darke457589
Ashtabula439068
Lawrence432651
Union430628
Mercer424287
Sandusky421862
Seneca413555
Auglaize412759
Huron410338
Shelby410221
Jefferson403366
Belmont395640
Washington372040
Putnam364672
Athens36369
Madison339329
Knox336522
Ashland331738
Fulton325943
Defiance319278
Crawford313268
Preble311534
Brown296619
Logan292729
Ottawa282134
Clinton279043
Williams270166
Highland262418
Jackson256943
Guernsey241725
Champaign240927
Fayette225529
Morrow22294
Perry221318
Holmes218662
Henry210247
Hardin204133
Coshocton197420
Van Wert196644
Gallia190926
Wyandot190549
Adams165615
Pike164116
Hocking163423
Carroll149516
Paulding139021
Noble117840
Meigs103221
Monroe95629
Harrison8568
Morgan79128
Vinton67113
Unassigned00
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