Facebook to alert us if we’ve been exposed to fake coronavirus news

Has somebody on Facebook tried to convince you that drinking bleach cures COVID-19?

If you’ve had that kind of dangerous misinformation coughed up at you on the platform and have liked, reacted or commented on it, expect to start seeing messages in your newsfeed alerting you and letting you know that Facebook has since removed the effluvium.

On Thursday, Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity, said in a post that the messages will be shown to those who’ve interacted with misinformation that Facebook went on to remove. The alerts will connect people to COVID-19 myths that have been debunked by the World Health Organization (WHO).

We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook.

Expect to see the messages show up in coming weeks. Facebook gave this example of what the mobile version will look like:

COVID-19 misinformation alert. IMAGE: Facebook

The alerts specifically pertain to coronavirus-related misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm. When it comes to other misinformation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that after Facebook’s fact-checkers rate it as false, the platform will reduce its distribution, apply warning labels with more context and hunt down duplicates.

Millions and millions of misdirections

Last month, Facebook flagged about 40 million COVID-19-related posts based on around 4,000 articles vetted by its fact-checking partners. That approach is apparently working, it said …

When people saw those warning labels, 95% of the time they did not go on to view the original content.

… which is in welcome contrast to the “Disputed” tags Facebook started applying in 2017 and which it mothballed after they made things worse.

Besides flagging what could potentially be fake news, Rosen said that Facebook also removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation that could lead people to physical harm.

Examples of misinformation we’ve removed include harmful claims like drinking bleach cures the virus and theories like physical distancing is ineffective in preventing the disease from spreading.

Just the facts, ma’am

Facebook is also working to make accurate pandemic information easier to find. To do so, it plans to launch a new section on its COVID-19 Information Center called Get the Facts. Available in the US, it will feature articles fact-checked by its partners that debunk misinformation about the coronavirus.

Facebook’s news curation team selects the articles and updates the section weekly. Soon, Get the Facts will also be added to Facebook News in the US.

Keeping people safe from crisis-related quackery is a top priority, Zuckerberg said:

Through this crisis, one of my top priorities is making sure that you see accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps. I hope all of you are staying safe, healthy and informed.

Just one battle in the Infodemic war

Facebook is far from alone in waging war against the data-driven dangers of the pandemic. Once COVID-19 got the world’s attention in March, we saw a slew of coronavirus-related scams, myths and misinformation waft out from crooks’ test tubes or from people who’ve blindly forwarded messages without vetting either the information or the source.

There’s been an onslaught of myths about how to cure the disease. There have been rumors blaming Muslims for spreading it. There have been YouTube videos claiming a connection between the virus and the new super-fast 5G wireless technology: videos that have racked up hundreds of thousands of views and which have led to attacks on cell towers.

This isn’t just a problem for Facebook, of course: all of the social networks are wrestling with it.

One tweet asking for journalists and Muslims to be lined up and shot stayed up on Twitter for almost a full day before the platform got around to deleting it and permanently suspending the account.

For its part, Facebook Messenger said last month that it was considering a ban on mass-forwarding of messages.

Two weeks ago, YouTube said it would limit the spread of the false 5G theory by suppressing content that spreads the conspiracy theory.

Pandemic scams

Besides misinformation and hoaxes, there’s been a rash of pandemic-related dangers that fall into the realm of cybercrime. We’ve seen extortion emails that threaten to give your family coronavirus, the phishing attack purporting to be a coronavirus safety advisory, a sextortion/ransomware pandemic-themed malware campaign, mobile malware and password stealing tricks to exploit people’s fear and uncertainty.

SophosLabs and its data science and threat response teams have created a “living article” where you can quickly access regularly updated information about the expanding cybercorona threat, including:

  • An industry discussion channel of the latest threat intelligence.
  • A Github repository of indicators of compromise (IoCs).
  • Updated statistics on the volume of pandemic-related cybercriminality.

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