6 things to know about WHO, big tech's efforts to stop coronavirus misinformation

Almost as critical as the World Health Organization and other global health organizations' efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus have been their efforts to contain the spread of misinformation about the virus online.

Here are six updates in WHO's strategy to fight misinformation, much of which has been carried out by major technology and social media companies, as reported by Becker's Hospital Review:

1. In early February, as the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, accelerated around the world, WHO contacted tech companies to ask for support in quelling the "infodemic." These requests resulted in the addition of notices on platforms such as Google, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook directing users to WHO and CDC web pages when they search for terms related to COVID-19 and coronavirus.

2. On Feb. 13, leaders from WHO and approximately two dozen tech and social media companies met at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters to discuss new strategies — both individual and collaborative — to battle misinformation.

"The purpose of that was to plant seeds of ideas, and it worked well," Andy Pattison, WHO's digital business solutions manager, said of the meeting at the time. "I encouraged collaboration and innovation. During a crisis, it's a good time for that."

3. A key part of Facebook and subsidiary Instagram's strategies is the total removal of false information about COVID-19, a significant departure from the company's usual practice of simply flagging or deprioritizing questionable content in users' feeds.

4. Apple and Google, meanwhile, have taken steps to ban from their respective app stores coronavirus-related mobile applications that are not released by an official health organization or government entity. Rejected developers have reportedly received notices from Apple explaining that "apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution."

Google, for its part, has a policy in place that prohibits apps that "capitalize on a natural disaster" and/or appear to "profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to the victims."

5. Amazon has also instituted bans of its own on products claiming to "kill coronavirus" and on those that are marked up hundreds of times higher than regular retail prices. Additionally, the online retailer added a CDC safety notice to its site that appears whenever shoppers search for "coronavirus," "COVID-19" and other related terms.

6. Finally, in addition to reaching out directly to social media platforms for help, WHO itself joined TikTok on Feb. 28 to share "reliable and timely public health advice." In the organization's first video, Benedetta Allegranzi, MD, WHO's technical lead of infection prevention and control, describes proper hand-washing, coughing and sneezing techniques to best prevent the spread of COVID-19, and lists possible symptoms of the illness.

Subsequent videos address when and how face masks should be worn to prevent the spread of the illness and describe how, exactly, COVID-19 is transmitted.

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