The internet has to endure a lot these days. Because of the contact restrictions, more people are on the net than ever and longer than ever. There, they are primarily looking for two things: information about the crisis situation and exchange with other people whom they are not allowed to see face to face. You can find both on social media such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter or messengers such as Whatsapp, Telegram and Discord.
Lots of time, a lot of fear and a great need for communication – this is currently leading to a lot of outrageous theories about the virus and government countermeasures circulating on social media. While the social media companies claimed a few years ago that they were not responsible for the content that is shared on the platforms, they are now trying to curb such misinformation.
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A current example: In the USA, a video called “Plandemic” was shared a lot, in which a microbiologist and well-known vaccinator presented a wild potpourri of corona conspiracy theses. The platforms responded. Facebook deleted the video, YouTube made it more difficult to find, Twitter suppressed a hashtag under which it was shared.
These measures are currently used by platforms to curb disinformation about Covid-19:
Facebook is now the company with the most sophisticated rules for misinformation. A key task in combating coronavirus misinformation is human Fact checker: The company works with around the world 60 organizations together, review the posts with questionable claims.
If claims turn out to be wrong, Facebook alerts people who are trying to share the content to the fact checks. People who want to see questionable shared content are also advised of the fact check. For a few weeks now, Facebook has gone one step further: Now everyone who has interacted with questionable Corona news, i.e. distributed likes for such posts, redistributed a post or clicked on a link, should be informed afterwards. Facebook sends these users to a page that offers fact checks on Corona myths. The fact checks are also integrated on Facebook’s own Corona info pages.
An important exception: statements and contributions from Politicians will not be checked for accuracy, even if they are obviously wrong.
If Facebook decides that content is not only wrong, but could potentially cause harm to people, then the platform will remove it deleted. Facebook cites calls to drink chlorine as an example to cure the sick of the virus.
As expected at a subsidiary of Facebook, the measures are similar to those of the parent company. Again, the exams from Facebook’s fact-checking network are shown when users interact with controversial posts. Content defined as “dangerous” will be deleted. One difference: In Hashtags and the “Discover”– Section on Instagram (which does not play a role on Facebook) are not displayed by fact checkers for incorrectly found content.
Whatsapp is also a subsidiary of Facebook, but the measures mentioned do not work here – for the simple reason that Facebook does not know what is shared on Whatsapp. All messages are end-to-end encrypted, so Whatsapp cannot read their content.
To limit the massive viral spread of rumors and disinformation, Whatsapp has the Message forwarding restricted. Messages that have been forwarded several times – Whatsapp marks them with a double arrow – can only be sent to individual contacts since April 7, and no longer to multiple recipients.
According to a recent report by Correctiv’s fact checkers, almost half of the questionable content submitted to them for review comes from Youtube. The company responds to this problem with a mixture of education, devaluation of contributions and bans. If you are looking for Covid-19 or similar terms, you will primarily find videos from reputable media or other reliable sources. The company is dazzling Information boxes which refer to the World Health Organization and national health authorities. Since the end of April there has been a factcheck program in the USA, for which YouTube uses the assessments of independent media or organizations. Youtube does not tell whether and when this measure will also be introduced in Germany.
If uploaded videos violate YouTube’s policies, they will be removed. In the current situation, the threshold is somewhat lower than for other topics: Usually, disinformation does not pose an immediate danger – in a pandemic, trivialization or deliberate misleading can be fatal. That’s why YouTube explains that it will take decisive action.
Nevertheless, a lot of videos remain online that contain lies and dangerous semi-knowledge. In some cases, they are viewed many millions of times, although YouTube restricts visibility and they are no longer proposed to users, for example. However, many users send the links to other channels or actively search for such videos. This leverages the platform’s recommendation logic.
By mid-March, Twitter had already tightened its rules. Since then, tweets with content that is directed against official recommendations for public health care have been classified as “harmful” and deleted. It has been new since Tuesday that Twitter also wants to take action against content that does not directly contradict the official line, but that could still do harm. This is likely to include a large part of the Covid-19 conspiracy theories circulating on the web. A warning is displayed to users about this content that this is a controversial claim. For this they get a link to one Saved information page to Covid-19.
Twitter emphasized that these rules should apply retrospectively as well as for tweets from leading politicians. US President Donald Trump in particular has repeatedly shared misleading contributions in the past.
Telegram, Discord and Co.
In recent years, part of the communication on the network has shifted from publicly accessible platforms such as Facebook to closed groups or messengers such as Telegram, Discord or Signal. There the members only communicate with each other. Operators of the groups and channels cannot or do not want to intervene and let the discussions run free.
Telegram in particular has established itself as an alternative communication platform in recent weeks. Dozens of local and regional branches of the “Corona rebels” organize demonstrations via Messenger. Right-wing radicals also sometimes spread conspiracy myths there or call for armed resistance.