Facebook, apparently deciding fake posts about the coronavirus are a bigger risk than misleading political ads, is moving to stem the rising flow of misinformation spreading on its network about the epidemic.

The world’s biggest social network, which in contrast with rival networks accepts political advertising, is pulling posts flagged as fake by its third-party fact-checkers because the misleading posts “could cause harm to people who believe them,” the company said on its website. Fact-checkers are focusing on claims that discourage treatment or precautions as well as posts related to false cures or fake prevention methods, “like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus.”

Facebook is being scolded by politicians, activists and news organizations for enabling the spread of misleading information and false news, especially since the company said last month that it wouldn’t limit how political ads are targeted. While Twitter and Alphabet’s Google have agreed to restrict or block political advertising, Facebook has called for regulation to cover the issue.

The decision to take down false or misleading coronavirus posts is an extension of existing policies that call for removing content that could cause physical harm, Facebook said.

The social network began downgrading false posts about the epidemic last week, MIT Technology Review reported, but bad information continued to be shared in private groups. “This appears to have prompted Facebook to begin removing offending posts entirely,” the publication said.   

Facebook also said it helping fight the spread of the coronavirus by providing relevant and up-to-date information at the top of its news feed, based on guidance from the World Health Organization. Health organizations are being given free advertising to run coronavirus education campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, and the company is helping researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan to share data.

Local Chinese residents, concerned that their government is censoring news of the virus, have taken to putting out posts on social media as a public service, MIT Technology Review said. The Chinese officials have deleted social-media posts that call out the government for failing to contain the virus or that question the official narrative, the Wall Street Journal reported

  • Twitter said it has seen more than 15 million tweets on the coronavirus but no significant coordinated efforts to spread misinformation. The company said it will stay vigilant in looking out for “malicious behaviors” and anyone engaged in such practices will be banned.
  • Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram failed to make good on efforts to eliminate fake news and clicks during an investigation by the NATO Strategic Communication Centre of Excellence last year. The group said in December The group paid 16 “manipulation service providers” for fake clicks, likes and followers on the four services and found after a month that 80% of the inauthentic engagements were still online.