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.

Confirmed Cases: 46387

Reported Deaths: 2662
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11434680
Lake4985241
Elkhart313343
Allen2695117
St. Joseph185766
Cass16369
Hamilton1502100
Hendricks1371100
Johnson1244118
Porter69037
Tippecanoe6598
Madison64363
Clark62744
Bartholomew58044
Howard55057
LaPorte54125
Kosciusko5003
LaGrange4646
Jackson4583
Vanderburgh4576
Noble45128
Delaware42949
Boone42743
Hancock42535
Marshall4183
Shelby41825
Floyd37044
Morgan32331
Montgomery29020
Grant28726
Clinton2812
Monroe26328
Dubois2616
White25910
Decatur24732
Henry23615
Lawrence23624
Vigo2278
Harrison20822
Warrick20729
Dearborn20622
Greene18432
Miami1802
Jennings16911
Putnam1658
DeKalb1594
Scott1557
Daviess13916
Orange13323
Wayne1296
Franklin1248
Steuben1242
Perry1239
Ripley1148
Jasper1132
Carroll1092
Wabash1092
Fayette967
Newton9610
Whitley814
Randolph774
Starke773
Huntington702
Wells681
Jay670
Fulton661
Jefferson661
Washington651
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay594
Rush563
Benton480
Adams471
Gibson462
Owen451
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer331
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain292
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike80
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52865

Reported Deaths: 2876
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin9338407
Cuyahoga7013366
Hamilton5224198
Marion273138
Lucas2628302
Pickaway217641
Summit1969206
Montgomery178426
Mahoning1752228
Butler144844
Columbiana120960
Stark1052112
Lorain96267
Trumbull86362
Warren75721
Clark7399
Belmont53421
Delaware51815
Tuscarawas51510
Fairfield50316
Medina49132
Lake44316
Miami44231
Ashtabula42144
Portage41858
Licking41611
Geauga39042
Wood38451
Clermont3566
Wayne35452
Richland3185
Allen29740
Mercer2728
Darke23625
Erie22922
Greene2229
Holmes2043
Madison1888
Huron1772
Crawford1357
Ottawa13023
Washington12720
Sandusky12213
Morrow1151
Putnam11516
Hardin11312
Ross1092
Auglaize993
Monroe8617
Coshocton811
Jefferson802
Union801
Hancock761
Hocking767
Muskingum731
Preble661
Lawrence650
Williams652
Clinton620
Guernsey603
Shelby594
Logan581
Wyandot584
Fulton570
Ashland551
Brown531
Carroll513
Defiance483
Fayette460
Highland431
Knox391
Champaign381
Athens371
Scioto360
Seneca332
Perry301
Henry290
Van Wert270
Paulding230
Vinton222
Adams211
Pike200
Jackson170
Gallia141
Harrison121
Meigs110
Noble110
Morgan90
Unassigned00
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