NHS joins forces with tech firms to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation

Facebook, Google and Twitter take action to ensure accurate health advice on their platforms.
By Tammy Lovell
09:09 AM

The NHS is working with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to provide the public with accurate information about COVID-19 and prevent the spread of “fake news”.

Google will provide easy access to verified NHS guidance when someone searches for information on the virus, while both Twitter and Facebook are directing users to the NHS website.

Twitter published a blog outlining its efforts to protect public conversation around the outbreak, which include launching a search prompt feature to ensure “credible, authoritative content” appears at the top of your searches. It also worked with the NHS to suspend a false account posing as a hospital, putting out inaccurate information about the number of cases.

The NHS is working with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to verify more than 800 NHS accounts, including hospital trusts and local commissioning groups with blue ticks.

It has also introduced new ‘knowledge panels’ – prominent pop out boxes of information – as part of Google search on mobile, to provide NHS information about more than 250 health conditions, including Covid-19.

In a statement published on Facebook, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, said the firm was “focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation” by removing false claims and conspiracy theories flagged by leading global health organisations, and blocking people from running ads that try to exploit the situation.  

Zuckerberg also said that researchers are using aggregated and anonymised Facebook data -including mobility data and population density maps - to better understand how the virus is spreading.

WHY IT MATTERS

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the global number of Covid-19 cases has surpassed 100,000. As of yesterday (9 March), there were 15,114 confirmed cases and 529 confirmed deaths in Europe.

But WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu has warned that “the ‘infodemic’ of fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is equally as dangerous”. He called on governments, companies and news organisations to work with WHO to “sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria”.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

This week, the UK has also announced that it is setting up a unit to tackle the spread of information shared online to deceive or mislead people with regards to COVID-19.

There has also been an emergence of health tech tools to track and test for the virus, including digital epidemiology tools, chatbot helpers, EHR guidance tools and rapid response test kits.

ON THE RECORD

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “It’s right that social media platforms and search engines take any action so they can help ensure the public are directed to NHS advice first.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “These changes will ensure the latest trusted NHS guidance sits at the very top of Google search lists, so people can be reassured they are reading official, up-to-date government advice.”

More regional news

(Top row: left to right) Dr Charles Alessi, HIMSS, Dr Peter Gocke, Charité in Berlin (Germany)

(Bottom row: left-right) Dr Afzal Chaudhry, Cambridge University Hospitals (UK), Dr Jan Kimpen, Philips (Netherlands)

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