Facebook, Twitter remove millions of pieces of fake news content related to Covid-19

Facebook and Twitter have also been expanding steps to highlight credible information on the disease and encourage vaccinations.
Facebook and Twitter have also been expanding steps to highlight credible information on the disease and encourage vaccinations.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been removing millions of pieces of fake news content from their platforms in a bid to stamp out misinformation surrounding Covid-19, The Straits Times has learnt.

The two companies have also been expanding steps to highlight credible information on the disease and encourage vaccinations, as the jabs continue to be distributed globally and taken by millions every day.

A Twitter spokesman told ST last Thursday (March 18) that the company has removed more than 22,400 tweets and challenged 11.7 million accounts worldwide that have contained problematic content, since last year. It had previously said earlier this month that it had removed 8,493 tweets and challenged 11.5 million accounts.

Owners of challenged accounts will have to provide Twitter with a means of verification, like a phone number or e-mail address, to prevent abuse.

Meanwhile, since February, Facebook has removed two million pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram, after expanding the list of false claims that it will remove during the pandemic.

Facebook's list, which it developed together with health authorities like the World Health Organisation, had initially covered false information about things such as the existence or severity of Covid-19, the way the disease is transmitted as well as "guaranteed" cures like drinking bleach.

It now also includes additional false claims about the coronavirus and vaccines, such as how vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against, that it is safer to get the disease than the vaccine, and that vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.

Twitter has also been broadening its policy surrounding fake news to include vaccinations. Its spokesman told ST: "Tweets which advance harmful, false or misleading narratives about Covid-19 vaccinations will be removed."

On its Covid-19 misleading information policy page online, Twitter said that in order for content related to the virus to be labelled or removed under this policy, it must advance a claim of fact expressed in definitive terms; be demonstrably false or misleading, based on widely available and authoritative sources; and be likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm.

From this month, Twitter has been applying warning labels to tweets that may contain misleading information about Covid-19 vaccines.

It has also implemented a strike system of enforcement that could see users permanently banned for repeat violations of its policies.

Facebook also plans to add labels to posts that discuss vaccines. For instance, a label might say that Covid-19 vaccines go through tests for safety and effectiveness before they are approved, on posts that discuss their safety.

Last week, founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that his company would be launching a global campaign to help bring 50 million people "a step closer" to getting Covid-19 vaccines.

The company is launching a tool that will inform users when and where they can get vaccinated, and which can provide them with a link to make an appointment to get jabbed.

It will also work with health authorities and governments around the world to help people register for vaccines by making adjustments to chatbots on WhatsApp, which Facebook owns.

Mr Zuckerberg said that more than three billion messages related to Covid-19 have already been sent by governments, non-profits and international organisations to citizens through official WhatsApp chatbots, and this update will help with the vaccination effort as well.

Nanyang Technological University communications professor Shirley Ho said that such steps by social media companies need to continue.

"Social media giants need to pull their weight by actively removing inaccurate information (and) fake news about vaccines from their platforms, and by restricting further dissemination of such misinformation.

Additional reporting by Yuen Sin