NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Facebook Inc will put a Covid-19 information page at the top of users' feeds, disseminating verified material from trusted sources including the World Health Organisation, to counteract the spread of falsehoods about the pandemic.
The data hub, to be put in place within 24 hours, will include content by academics and celebrities, amplifying tips and best practices from the WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on issues like social distancing and hand washing, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday (March 18) on a call with reporters.
The company's massively popular WhatsApp messenger also launched a coronavirus information page for health workers, educators and local governments with "actionable guidance" on how to best communicate on the platform.
Social media rival Twitter Inc announced an escalation of its moderation policy around the virus, saying it will act to curb the spread of misinformation and broadening its definition of harmful content.
Facebook is seeing a consistent surge of user activity - higher than even the stroke of midnight for the New Year, one of the most popular times to share - as people log in to understand what's happening with the virus and try to stay connected with friends and family, particularly as they work from home.
That means a lot of people are relying on Facebook as a primary way to get news.
The Menlo Park, California-based company's work is complicated by the fact that its employees are also working from home. That means the usual content moderators, who tend to be contractors, won't have access to the systems they need for their work.
Facebook is reassigning some content moderation work to full-time employees, focusing especially on removing items that could inspire harm. They'll focus the most attention on taking down content regarding suicide and self-harm, as well as material that offers dangerous coronavirus solutions, like drinking bleach.
That might mean workers can't address less harmful misinformation, like lies from political candidates.
Telling people drinking bleach will cure them is "obviously going to create imminent harm", Mr Zuckerberg said. "That is just in a completely different class of content than the back-and-forth accusations a candidate might make in an election."
In the meantime, Facebook has seen a dramatic increase in the usage of Facebook Live, Instagram Live and messaging.
In Italy alone, live videos are getting double the viewers they did last week.
Voice and video calling on WhatsApp and Messenger, Facebook's chat apps, has more than doubled year-over-year as people stay indoors to prevent getting infected. Facebook expects the surge to continue as more regions tell people to stay home and impose shelter-in-place orders.
Still, the CEO said he expects that the outbreak, and the containment strategies put in place to stem the spread of the virus, will cause "a major economic shock".
Mr Zuckerberg also said government agencies haven't asked the social media company to provide user information to track the spread of the virus.
"I don't think it would make sense to share people's data where people didn't opt into doing that," he said.
On the call, Mr Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook is able to combat fake news so aggressively around Covid-19, but less so around political misinformation.
The data from the health industry is more "black and white" and there are clear authorities who can dictate what is right and wrong, like the WHO and the CDC, he said.
That distinction "makes this a very different dynamic than trying to be referee of political speech", Mr Zuckerberg added.
On Wednesday, Twitter barred users from posting misleading information about the new coronavirus, including denials of expert guidance and encouragement of fake treatments, tightening its normally lax rules around speech.
Twitter's new guidance, published in a blog post, said it would require people to remove content encouraging people to act against recommendations from public health authorities.
Examples it provided of statements now barred from Twitter include "the news about washing your hands is propaganda for soap companies" and "use aromatherapy and essential oils to prevent Covid-19".