Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

Tech giants must stop Covid-19 'infodemic', say doctors

  • Described as an "infodemic" by the World Health Organization (WHO), the conspiracies range from linking the pandemic to immigrants to claims the virus is spread by 5G network towers (Photo: Stock Catalog)

Doctors around the world - including in Europe - have demanded social media tech giants step up their fight against disinformation, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter addressed to Facebook, Twitter, and Google, the global health experts say they continue to face a viral misinformation on social media threatening lives around the world.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"Today we are calling on the tech giants to take immediate systemic action to stem the flow of health misinformation, and the public health crisis it has triggered," says the letter published Thursday (7 May) and signed by over 100 doctors and nurses.

They note false claims and conspiracies continue to flourish on platforms like Facebook - pointing out that the promotion of bogus cures scares people off vaccines and effective treatments.

"It's us who treat the toddlers hospitalised for measles, a completely avoidable disease once eliminated in countries like the US but now on the rise largely thanks to anti-vaxxer propaganda," they note.

More efforts to correct the record on health misinformation and detox the algorithms that decide what people see figure among their two most pressing demands.

Forms of vaccine misinformation which do not come under Facebook's policies on imminent violence or physical harm are dropped down in its News Feed.

The company then displays articles in an effort to set the record straight and removes the bogus remedies from search results and group recommendations.

But Avaaz, a global civic organisation, in a recent study said millions of Facebook users were being exposed to coronavirus misinformation, without any warning from the platform.

Facebook has since announced it would retroactively issue alerts on coronavirus disinformation.

The letter also follows moves to grant more powers to the European Union to audit the tech giants as the European Commission preps work on its digital platform regulation known as the Digital Services Act.

Twitter late last month won some praise from European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova for allowing researchers and software developers access to a real-time data stream of tens of millions of daily public tweets about Covid-19.

But the pandemic has also only further exposed the daily onslaught of misinformation and disinformation, amid increasing pressure by activists for the tech giants to tweak their algorithms that amplify the messages to select audiences.

Described as an "infodemic" by the World Health Organization (WHO), the conspiracies range from linking the pandemic to immigrants to claims the virus is spread by 5G network towers.

For its part, Facebook says it has removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of harmful Covid-19 misinformation and applied warning labels from independent fact-checkers to 40 million posts in the month of March alone.

"We're also distributing authoritative health information across our apps: so far we've directed over two billion people to resources from health authorities through our COVID-19 Information Center — with over 350 million people clicking through to learn more," a Facebook company spokesperson told this website.

Facebook to retroactively alert users of bogus content

US social media giant Facebook announced new measures to tackle the 'infodemic' triggered by bogus content on the coronavirus. The move coincides with a study by activists showing how Facebook had so far failed to curtail virus-related disinformation.

Online platforms need regulating, Jourova warns

The EU commission vice-president pledged to tackle disinformation by regulating platforms and cleaning up online political advertising rules. She also pointed to Russia and China as wanting to undermine European democracy.

Analysis

The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points

As the EU Commission gets entangled in a dispute with one of the vaccine producers and gets heat for the perceived slow roll-out of the vaccines, we take a look at what the EU has done and not done.

EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall

"The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a 'best effort agreement' is neither correct nor acceptable," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, after the company's CEO tried to justified delayed deliveries to the EU.

EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

The European Commission wants to control exports of coronavirus vaccines to outside the bloc, after pharmaceutical firms said EU countries will receive fewer jabs than they ordered due to alleged production problems.

News in Brief

  1. Putin holds out olive branch to Europe
  2. US snatched Russian anti-air system from Libya warlord
  3. UK to extradite alleged trafficker to EU despite Brexit
  4. EU puts trust in Boeing 737s after post-crash ban
  5. EU animal-export trade under harsh spotlight
  6. City of London wants to set rules for EU
  7. MEPs want 2030 targets to reduce consumption footprint
  8. Coronavirus cases worldwide pass 100m

Opinion

Together Europe can beat pandemics, Alzheimer's, cancer

Let's expand the EU with a Health Union where cutting edge research and world-class applications go hand in hand. For this, it is worth being European, believing in Europe, working on Europe, writes European People's Party leader Manfred Weber MEP.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Poland imposes anti-abortion law amid EU concern
  2. The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points
  3. EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall
  4. First Covid, now McKinsey - how austerity hit EU healthcare
  5. Frontex suspends operations in Hungary
  6. Cyprus: a heavy caseload for new EU prosecutors office
  7. MEPs: Portugal 'risks undermining' trust in EU prosecutor
  8. EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us