The World Health Organization announced last week that the coronavirus outbreak constituted a global health emergency and this has prompted Facebook to take the rare step of actively removing misinformation about the disease from its platforms.

The social network said it was building on existing efforts to deal with conspiracy theories and other harmful content, such as false cures and misleading preventative measures. Amazingly, these include claims that drinking bleach is a cure.

With coronavirus continuing to spread across Asia and the rest of the world – the UK confirmed its first two cases on Friday – the disease has often been compared to the Sars outbreak in 2003.

Yet that epidemic occurred before social media had really taken off – Facebook itself launched in 2004 – and this time many malicious or ignorant posts risk going viral.

With that in mind and as public health officials around the world work to keep people safe, Facebook announced in a blog post that it would support them, principally by limiting the spread of misinformation while also connecting people to helpful advice.

“When people search for information related to the virus on Facebook or tap a related hashtag on Instagram, we will surface an educational pop-up with credible information,” wrote Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health.

“We have also provided free advertising credits to enable organizations to run coronavirus education campaigns on Facebook and Instagram in affected regions and are discussing ways to provide additional assistance and support to health authorities,” he added.

The company’s global network of third-party factcheckers is reviewing content and then alerting users who risk sharing or have shared misleading content about the virus.

In addition, Kang-Xian Jin explained: “We will help people get relevant and up-to-date information from partners through messages on top of News Feed on Facebook; these will be deployed based on guidance from the WHO.”

Facebook is also sharing data with researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan to help inform their forecasting models for the spread of the virus.

Sourced from Facebook; additional content by WARC staff