Kate Atkinson from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Bianca-Alexandra from Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca Romania, discovered some of the ways their respective countries are combatting the spread of “fake news” about COVID-19.
A surge in online information about the global health pandemic – what the World Health Organisation is calling an “infodemic” – has prompted global tech giants to implement new measures to combat the spread of inaccurate health information and advice.
It follows expert calls for greater responsibility.
Popular image sharing site Pinterest has introduced new features to its platform in a bid to elevate expert opinion, according to a company spokesperson.
A health misinformation banner was added to coronavirus-related search results in late January, and from early February, search results surfaced only expert information from the World Health Organisation and other public health organisations.
These measures come amid concerns about the sharing on social media sites of far-fetched explanations for the coronavirus – such as the rollout of 5G technology and a secret ploy by Bill Gates and George Soros to use a coronavirus vaccine to microchip the population.
The University of Canberra’s recently released COVID-19: Australian News and Misinformation report, suggests that a lack of awareness about coronavirus misinformation on social media could pose a significant problem in our attempts to understand the disease.
Less than a quarter (23%) of the more than 2000 Australians surveyed, said they had encountered a great deal or a lot of misinformation about coronavirus and 30 per cent said they hadn’t encountered much or none at all.
According to lead author, Associate Professor Sora Park from the News and Media Research Centre, the lack of awareness about coronavirus misinformation online also meant many social media users are unwilling to help combat the spread of “fake news”.
“When they do [encounter misinformation], not many people do anything about it.”
In Romania, the spread of fake news is being tackled in media literacy initiatives such as Misreport, a weekly newsletter about misinformation.
Co-founder Codruta Simina says early intervention through education is key.
“There is a complete lack of media education – which should be introduced in schools as soon as possible – a huge amount of information and a lack of reliable gatekeeping mechanisms,” she said.
While some social media platforms such as Pinterest are starting to take responsibility for minimising the spread of fake news, Assoc. Prof. Park believes most have not done enough.
“There’s not that much effort compared to the amount of information and the amount of people who are online.”
“But lots of platforms [have] started to provide information that’s verified by putting a badge on it [to indicate it] could be inaccurate or false.”
For Assoc. Prof. Park, the lack of industry action is a particular problem in content sharing sites such as Reddit, where users tend to encounter only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own through specialty discussion fora.
“Reddit is probably a platform where there could potentially be a lot of misinformation because its mostly user-generated content and they tend to have echo chambers a lot more.”
Codruta Simina believes tech giants have a responsibility to do business with trustworthy and reliable partners in a renewed effort to combat fake news.
“There should be agreed ethical criteria for the companies that promote their products on the main social media platforms who can choose to not pay automatic ads to the websites that foster this kind of content.”
— Kate Atkinson and Bianca-Alexandra.
*Quotes from Codruta Simina have been translated from Romanian into English.