• Friday, Jul 10, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:38 am

Why the novel coronavirus became a social media nightmare

  • Published at 11:59 am March 29th, 2020
facebook coronavirus
File Photo: Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone screen photographed on coronavirus illustration graphic background on March 25, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia AFP

Part of the reason is that social media algorithms are geared to appeal to someone's habits and interests: the emphasis is on likability, not accuracy

The biggest reputational risk Facebook and other social media companies had expected in 2020 was fake news surrounding the US presidential election. Be it foreign or domestic in origin, the misinformation threat seemed familiar, perhaps even manageable.

The novel coronavirus, however, has opened up an entirely different problem: the life-endangering consequences of supposed cures, misleading claims, snake-oil sales pitches and conspiracy theories about the outbreak.

So far, AFP has debunked almost 200 rumors and myths about the virus, but experts say stronger action from tech companies is needed to stop misinformation and the scale at which it can be spread online.

"There's still a disconnect between what people think is true and what people are willing to share," Professor David Rand, a specialist in brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told AFP, explaining how a user's bias toward content he or she thinks will be liked or shared typically dominates decision-making when online.

Part of the reason is that social media algorithms are geared to appeal to someone's habits and interests: the emphasis is on likability, not accuracy. Changing that would require Facebook, Twitter and other such companies to alter what people see on screen.

Prompts urging users to consider the accuracy of content they are spreading on social networks are needed, said Rand, co-author of a study on Covid-19 misinformation that was published earlier this month.

Deadly consequences

Using controlled tests with more than 1,600 participants, the study found that false claims were shared in part simply because people failed to think about whether the content was reliable.

In a second test, when people were reminded to consider the accuracy of what they are going to share, their level of truth awareness more than doubled.

That approach - known as "accuracy nudge intervention" - from social media companies could limit the spread of misinformation, the report concluded.

"These are the kind of things that make the concept of accuracy top of the minds of people," said Rand, noting that news feeds are instead filled by users' own content and commercial advertisements.

"There probably is a concern from social networking companies about accuracy warnings degrading the user experience, because you're exposing users to content that they didn't want to see. But I hope by talking about this more we'll get them to take this seriously and try it."

What is undoubted is that misinformation about the novel coronavirus has been deadly. Although US, French and other scientists are working to expedite effective treatments, false reports have appeared in numerous countries.

In Iran, a fake remedy of ingesting methanol has reportedly led to 300 deaths, and left many more sick.

AFP and other media companies, including Reuters and the Associated Press, work with Facebook's fact checking program, under which content rated false is downgraded in news feeds so that fewer people see it. If someone tries to share such a post, he or she is presented with an article explaining why the information is not accurate.

The Covid-19 misinformation study mirrored past tests for political fake news, notably in that reminders about accuracy would be a simple way to improve choices about what people share.

"Accuracy nudges are straightforward for social media platforms to implement on top of the other approaches they are currently employing, and could have an immediate positive impact on stemming the tide of misinformation about the Covid-19 outbreak," the authors concluded.


55
53
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail