False claims shared on Facebook and Co. about Covid-19 complicate their daily work, write the more than 100 doctors.
In an open letter, more than 100 doctors and health experts from all over the world call on the major social media groups to combat false reports more consistently. Rumors and disinformation about the corona virus circulate on platforms such as Facebook and Youtube often without contradiction. The letter appears today in a full page advertisement in the New York Times and was financed by donations from the Avaaz activism organization.
The undersigned doctors, including the German virologist Christian Drosten, complain that the misinformation is making their daily work in the fight against the corona virus difficult. For example, New York epidemiologist Duncan Maru reports of people who “drink disinfectants to heal themselves”, others did not follow the distance rules because they did not take the virus seriously. Infection specialist Rajeev Fernando writes that people who have heard online that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu are reluctant to go to the doctor if they have symptoms of their own. This leads to deaths that could have been prevented if the patients had not been flooded with harmful misinformation online.
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In concrete terms, the doctors call for two things in their letter: Facebook is to show people who have been shown misinformation in the network concrete corrections by fact checkers about the allegations seen. At the moment, Facebook only shows general information about where there is reliable information about the corona virus – and only for people who have clicked on content with incorrect content.
Facebook relies on studies, which are rather reserved in dealing with disinformation, to show that the belief in wrong content is strengthened among users if it is repeated in a correction: a phenomenon that psychology calls the “backfire effect” . However, some researchers whose studies Facebook is referring to have now said that Facebook misunderstood their findings. In fact, after a correctly displayed correction, only half of the people believe in the originally incorrect information, says Avaaz’s Germany chief, Christoph Schott.
The second key requirement concerns the algorithms of the networks. Companies should prevent content with misleading claims from being shown to more people, the health experts write. This criticism also has a real core. Journalists had shown several times that YouTube, for example, repeatedly recommends videos with conspiracy theories to its users, but meanwhile the platform has changed this mechanism several times. Since then, users have been offered less radicalized videos.
The fact that the demands of medical professionals are fairly specific is due to the collaboration with the Avaaz organization, which has long been concerned with combating disinformation online. According to Germany chief Schott, Avaaz noticed an increase in misinformation about Covid-19 on the net and went to doctors on his own to find out whether this also has an impact on their daily work. When they answered in the affirmative, the organization proposed the open letter to the doctors. The organization also made suggestions as to what could be done to combat the so-called infodemic.
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