Social media sites urged to flag coronavirus misinformation

Wednesday, 05 February, 2020

Social media sites urged to flag coronavirus misinformation

Responsible Technology Australia is calling on social media platforms to be transparent about the extent of coronavirus misinformation on their sites, as the dangerous information continues to spread.

The organisation recommended platforms create a “live list of the top 100 viral pieces of information about coronavirus” with “demographic context about where it is being shared and also flag if this content is coming from bad or foreign actors”, according to Responsible Technology Australia Director Amit Singh. 

“This information could sit alongside verified public health information,” Singh added.

“Right now we only have anecdotal evidence that misinformation about coronavirus, including instances of fake public health warnings, is spreading among some groups online.”

“If we can’t see the scale of the problem, we can’t even begin to figure out how to tackle it.”

While Google and Facebook have already implemented “minor” mechanisms to target the spread of false information, “they’ve done little to address the systemic causes”, Responsible Technology Australia claims.

“Removing content or labelling it is a start but it doesn’t help correct that the misinformation has been served up to someone before it’s removed. It also doesn’t address the way we are being served up content, through filter bubbles,” Singh said.

Although coronavirus is an immediate example of the dangers of false information spreading online, broader social harms caused by its amplification need to be addressed.

“This misinformation is deliberate, but it is also detectable, and ultimately it can be prevented. In the long run, addressing this information imbalance requires regulatory oversight. Responsible Technology Australia is pleased to see the work with ACMA on a disinformation code that is in development,” Singh said.

The organisation is also advocating for an “independent social media watchdog”.

“This is an area in which Australia has already led. The Prime Minister took globally well-regarded steps when he looked to crack down on violent extremist content in the wake of Christchurch,” Singh said.

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