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Mar 18, 2020

Facebook puts coronavirus information page at top of user feeds

Facebook vows to fight misinformation

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Facebook Inc. will put a COVID-19 information page at the top of users’ feeds, disseminating verified material from trusted sources including the World Health Organization, to counteract the spread of falsehoods about the pandemic.

The data hub, to be put in place within 24 hours, will include content by academics and celebrities, amplifying tips and best practices from the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on issues like social distancing and hand washing, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday on a call with reporters.

Facebook is seeing a consistent surge of user activity -- higher than even the stroke of midnight for the New Year, one of the most popular times to share -- as people log in to understand what’s happening with the virus, and try to stay connected with friends and family, particularly as they work from home. That means a lot of people are relying on Facebook as a primary way to get news.

The Menlo Park, California-based company’s work is complicated by the fact that its employees also are working from home. That means the usual content moderators, who tend to be contractors, won’t have access to the systems they need for their work. Facebook is reassigning some content moderation work to full-time employees, focusing especially on removing items that could inspire harm. They’ll focus the most attention on taking down suicide and self-harm content, as well as material that offers dangerous coronavirus solutions, like drinking bleach. That might mean employees can’t address less-harmful misinformation, like lies from political candidates.

Telling people drinking bleach will cure them is “obviously going to create imminent harm,” Zuckerberg said. “That is just in a completely different class of content than the back-and-forth accusations a candidate might make in an election.”

The CEO said he expects the outbreak, and the containment strategies put in place to stem the spread of the virus, will be “a major economic shock.”

Zuckerberg said government agencies haven’t asked the social-media company to provide user information to track the spread of the virus.

“I don’t think it would make sense to share people’s data where people didn’t opt into doing that,” he said.

Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook is able to combat fake news so aggressively around COVID-19, but less-so around political misinformation. The data from the health industry is more “black and white,” and there are clear authorities who can dictate what is right and wrong, like the WHO and the CDC, he said.

“[That] makes this a very different dynamic than trying to be referee of political speech,” Zuckerberg added.