Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus information, mis-information, conspiracy theories, web search, and social media

The coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic is constantly generating new information, and misinformation.  How to separate them?

A number of social media sites, and Google, have decided not to rely on their organic recommender systems. So e.g. if you search for "coronavirus" in Google, you get what appear to be all curated sites (e.g. government and University sources, and major newspapers), and if you google "coronavirus conspiracy theories" you get news stories about some of the craziness out there, but not the first hand insanity.

The Guardian has this story:

Tech giants struggle to stem 'infodemic' of false coronavirus claims

"Click over to Google, type in “coronavirus”, and press enter.

"The results you see will bear little resemblance to any other search.

"There are no ads, no product recommendations, and no links to websites that have figured out how to win the search engine optimisation game. Government, NGO and mainstream media sources dominate.

"Algorithms and user-generated content are out; gatekeepers and fact checking are in.
"Across the social web – on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram and Pinterest – search results related to Covid-19 are similarly predetermined.

"Instagram delivers a pop-up urging US users to go to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – or UK users to the NHS – rather than look at the memes and pictures tagged with #coronavirus.

"On Facebook, a dedicated “Information Center” includes a mix of curated information and official medical advice. On Pinterest, the only infographics and memes to be found on topics such as “Covid-19” or “hydroxychloroquine” are those made by internationally recognised health organisations, such as the WHO.
"Another complicating factor is that normally trustworthy sources are not providing reliable information.

“We’ve seen the US government, particularly the White House, becoming a significant purveyor of misinformation around the virus,” Bergstrom said.

Facebook and Twitter have removed posts by prominent and powerful people over coronavirus misinformation, including the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, but the real test of their resolve will be whether they ever take action against misinformation by Trump."

Here's another story, concerning a particular conspiracy theory:

Facebook acts to halt far-right groups linking Covid-19 to 5G

"Facebook has stepped up efforts to stop the promotion of baseless conspiracy theories linking Covid-19 to 5G, after research highlighted a “toxic cocktail” of far-right-influenced groups pushing the idea alongside incitement to attack telecommunications infrastructure.

"Groups in the UK promoting the conspiracy theory on Facebook – often linking it to explicitly antisemitic messages – have been growing at a significant rate, warned the campaign group Hope not Hate.

"The largest group in the UK, Stop 5G UK, added almost 3,000 members in just 24 hours from 6-7 April while another, Direct Action Against 5G, gained more than 1,400 members in its first week after it was created on 31 March"

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