February 6, 2020

Misinformation, coronavirus and social media


The Innovation team at Instinctif harness the best of the future to deliver market-leading ideas in the present. The team’s specialism spans digital strategy and marketing, data & analytics, and strategic brand. This fortnightly update shares top tips to help you foster creative and challenge the status quo and summarises the news that matters.

How social media is tackling misinformation about #coronavirus 

Since mid-January when Coronavirus entered the public’s consciousness, the volume of mentions of the virus on social media has been extreme. In fact, it seems the only thing more contagious than coronavirus is the social media storm surrounding it.

The most concerning element of this is, of course, the spread of false information. One Facebook post, shared almost 20,000 times, told users in the Philippines that they could guard against the disease by avoiding “spicy food” (completely untrue), whilst a widely-circulated video of a girl eating bat soup was wrongly credited as the reason for the outbreak. As it turned out, the video wasn’t even filmed in China.

According to MedScape, ‘the spread of disinformation on the various platforms is nothing new… fake accounts known as ‘bots’ and troublemakers known as ‘keyboard trolls’ often jump into a trending conversation to fearmonger and create a false narrative. Their goal… is to create a sense of doubt about the institutions that are supposed to protect us and leave us feeling concerned for our safety, however irrationally.’

Misinformation around coronavirus is dangerous because it can put people’s health at risk and cause unwarranted panic and stress. So what are social media companies doing to combat the spread of it?


In a blog post, the social media giant said it would use its existing fact-checkers to review and expose misinformation. The firm has also said it will notify individuals who had shared or were trying to share information that had been flagged as false. The platform said it was focussing on potentially harmful posts, such as those giving false information about treatment, as it could put people’s lives at risk.


The platform has claimed there have been over 15 million tweets about coronavirus over the last month. Now, when users type in ‘coronavirus’ to the Twitter search, a prompt appears stating ‘To make sure you get the best information on the novel coronavirus, resources are available from the Department of Health and Social Care’ and it then links users to the Department of Health and Social Care’s profile, making it more likely users will find and engage with accurate information.


False information doesn’t violate YouTube’s guidelines for videos, but the social media giant has been trying to ensure that accurate and authoritative information appears most often in results when people type ‘coronavirus’ into the search bar.


The platform put a banner at the top of its home page recently which provided users with accurate information about coronavirus to try and stop the spread of false information. The platform has already ‘quarantined’ one of its communities because of the amount of misleading and false information being posted on it, so users can see when they enter the discussion that there’s a warning and the content may be false.

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