Social media platforms have played/are playing crucial roles in distributing news during the Coronavirus pandemic. With such a form of power, many platforms are going that extra mile to help out during this difficult time.
Why is social media so important?
Social media has the power to spread important news fast. It is one of the best ways to spread the news, and for some people, their only form of news, which is why it is so important during this crisis. When the news of lockdown broke, a lot of people will not have been watching this directly on their televisions, so many people would have found out through friends on social media, reports on social media and of course the live video footage on social media. Without this, it could have been a slower reaction to the news.
What are platforms doing to help?
With real news comes a lot of worry, stress and of course, fake news. So, social media platforms have had to quickly step up to the plate to keep their users safe and as stress-free as possible. The different platforms are all doing things differently.
Facebook fights misinformation
Facebook is fighting their ‘fake news’ and rolling out tight measures to fight misinformation for its 2.5 billion users. The company are bringing in more regional ‘fact-checkers’ on a global scale. They are also asking users to help by flagging suspicious posts.
As well as these measures, Facebook is turning to the algorithm to favour those posts by putting credible sources at the top of news feeds, e.g., World Health Organisations (WHO) and other national/regional resources. With more people turning to social media as their source of news, emitting fake news is so important as it can create unnecessary panic and fear.
Facebook has also set up a Coronavirus Information Centre to give people the correct, helpful information. When users search for Coronavirus on Facebook, this, along with other credible sources (e.g., WHO) will be on top of the list. This is another way to prevent fake news being spread.
Facebook has also just put out a new ‘care’ react emoji. It is an emoji hugging a heart and is being rolled out as people may need some extra compassion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only are Facebook helping digitally but in the ‘real world’ too. By donating 720,000 facemasks. The social network also pledged to donate $145 million to various causes, benefiting healthcare workers as well as small businesses.
Instagram promotes self-isolation and social distancing.
Instagram has also been taking tight measures to prevent the spread of misinformation by similarly prioritising their feed’s algorithm, favouring trusted sources first.
Instagram has also stopped their users searching for COVID-19 related AR effects unless they’re developed in partnership with a recognised health source. Some of these filters were seen as being insensitive due to the rising death tolls from Coronavirus. As well as banning searching for AR filters, the hashtag #coronavirus has also been banned and instead will direct users to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Instagram’s primary focus during the current pandemic has been to promote self-isolation and staying at home. Therefore, they have rolled out new ‘Stay Home’ stickers for Instagram stories. Users can place this sticker on their stories for a chance to have their posts featured in the stay home story that appears on top of user’s feeds. The popularity of these new features reportedly almost crashed the site as users flooded the platform’s servers! The promotion of staying home is so important as there are still people not listening.
WhatsApp launches COVID-19 information hub.
Also trying to combat misinformation is WhatsApp. They have taken a different approach to other social media channels and have provided their users with space where they can receive up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19. WhatsApp has partnered up with the biggest trusted names: WHO, UNICEF and UNDP to launch the Coronavirus Information Hub.
WhatsApp is also a quick method of spreading ‘fake news’. During this crisis, they have put in extra measures to try and avoid the worry, with attempts to shut down spam accounts, using Al to identify accounts which send out automated messages. WhatsApp also announced on the 7th April that it would impose strict new limits on message forwarding. So, if a message has already been forwarded many times, users will then only be allowed to send it to one chat at a time, rather than five. This is a bid to stop the spread of misinformation and hoaxes.
YouTube promotes verified organisations
As of the 19th March 2020, YouTube promised to promote verified, informative videos of Coronavirus information on its homepage. Similarly, to Facebook, when searching for Coronavirus, the platform has added info panels from the WHO or to national health organisations.
YouTube has recently changed their strategy. They began by banning ads on videos about the Coronavirus – in line with its advertising policy which can demonetise videos discussing sensitive events such as a global health crisis. YouTube quickly received backlash, so they have started monitoring and allowing ads on videos by some creators.
Twitter protects its users.
Similar to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Twitter is directing its users to national health organisations when they search for coronavirus-related topics/terms. The platform has also pledged to ban ads that exploit the outbreak.
The new policy will ban misleading posts pretending to be from official authorities, posts denying official guidelines and tweets encouraging “fake or ineffective treatments, preventions and diagnostic techniques”. Twitter has said that it will, however not be able to take down every single misleading tweet.
Without these new implementations from the different social media giants, the whole social media world could be a mess right now. So, it’s great to see them all helping during the global pandemic and always making the digital world a safe place.
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