Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter Are in a Struggle to Stop the Distribution of Fake News Around the Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak

Facebook Twitter YouTube Battle Wuhan Coronavirus Fake News

Fake news has been around for just as long as real news, but over the last few years, the phenomenon has gained a lot of notoriety. Why?

It all has to do with the fact that the internet and social networks are available to virtually anyone at next to no cost. "Anyone" includes the tin foil headgear enthusiasts, those whose lives' success is measured in Facebook likes, and the plain naïve. They all get a platform where they can freely unroll their thought processes for the world to see, and they tend to use a lot of hashtags to ensure that their wisdom reaches far and wide, especially when there's a global headline-generating event. At the moment, the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in China is the main talking point in almost every news program, and unfortunately, the people willingly or unwillingly spreading misinformation are all over it as well.

Fake news around the Wuhan coronavirus spreads as quickly as the virus itself

At the time of writing, the Wuhan coronavirus has claimed as many as 170 lives, and China says that there are more than 7 thousand confirmed cases. Airports have stepped up their screening procedures, airlines have stopped their regular flights to China, and borders have been closed. Despite this, new cases are registered all around the world every day. Scientists are in a race to find ways of containing, vaccinating against, and eliminating the virus. Meanwhile, other people are busy spreading false information about it.

The claims range from outlandish, to absurd, to downright dangerous. Some conspiracy theorists reckon that with the new disease, evil states are trying to kill a vast number of people and de-populate the planet. There are even a few links doing the rounds, which suggest that none other than the US Government has patented the virus. Websites like FactCheck.org have debunked the wild theory and have proved conclusively that the said patents have nothing to do with the new strain, but certain people are having none of it. They are still convinced that this is some sort of biological warfare, and they apparently think that when a state engages in it, it will try to protect its intellectual property, even if this means that details on some of its weapons get to be published on the internet.

While we're on the subject of the US Government, other social media users believe (or at least pretend to believe) that the whole thing is a distraction from the impeachment process that has started against Donald Trump. We already mentioned how serious the outbreak is. It has the potential to spiral out of control, and although political agenda can be a very powerful thing, propping it up with the help of a deadly virus that can kill thousands of people is thankfully reserved for action hero movies and comic books.

Magical cures can be both useless and dangerous

But while some people are theorizing on where the virus came from, others are sharing tips on how we can protect ourselves from it and even get better if we already have it. According to the UK's Daily Mail, scientists need about two more months in order to develop and test an effective vaccine against the Wuhan coronavirus, but some people on the internet reckon that the eggheads are wasting their time. They say that the virus can be defeated by the humble oregano oil. Science tells us that this is complete nonsense, but as we mentioned already, certain internet users won't allow facts get in the way of an outlandish theory. Oregano oil won't do anything to protect you from the Wuhan coronavirus, but on the bright side, it's unlikely to harm you. Other "cures," however, are a bit different.

According to The Daily Beast, there is a group of conspiracy theorists on Twitter who promote something called Miracle Mineral Solution (or MMS) as a magical cure for all sorts of diseases, and right now, they are saying that it's also effective against the Wuhan coronavirus. A few minutes' worth of research shows that MMS has been around for a while, and it also reveals what it actually is. It's chlorine dioxide – a toxic chemical used for bleaching wood pulp. There are cases of people who have ended up severely ill after believing the nonsense claims about chlorine dioxide's magical properties. For some, the outcome was fatal.

Social networks try to contain the spread of fake news

As you can see, spreading misinformation is easier than ever. When people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey were creating the world's most popular social media platforms, they never thought that their products would be used for distributing fake news. The freedom of expression they have enabled and the huge number of active users make them perfect for this exact purpose, though, which means that they must now protect people from exposure to false information. This is easier said than done.

We deliberately decided not to share direct links to the posts and profiles spreading misinformation about the Wuhan coronavirus, but if you take the time to locate them, you'll see that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are trying to do something about it. Some of the Facebook posts have been flagged, for example, and the social network has even provided links from independent fact-checkers who explain what the truth is. YouTube videos have been taken down, and some Twitter accounts have apparently been suspended.

It's a battle the social networks are unlikely to win, though. In the wake of events with worldwide significance, the waves of fake news are enormous, and trying to hunt down the sources of false information resembles a whack-a-mole game. Completely stopping the flow of bogus stories is practically impossible, which is why, once again, it's up to you to sort the fact from the fiction, regardless of whether we're talking about the coronavirus outbreak or another big news story.

January 31, 2020

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