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Will to Act: How social media giants have failed to live up to their claims on the Coronavirus ‘infodemic’

According to new research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) Social media platforms remove fewer than 1 in 10 posts reported for coronavirus misinformation: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are failing to take action against more than 9 in 10 posts containing misinformation about coronavirus which are reported to the platforms.

649 posts that contravened their stated standards were reported to the social media platforms, but action was taken on only 61 (9.4%) of the posts. Of those, 6.3% of posts were removed , 2% of posts were from accounts which were subsequently taken down, and 1% were flagged as false information but remain online. 90.6% of misinformation posts reported to the platforms were left untouched.

Examples of the posts which were not removed include conspiracy theories and false claims that:

  • Viruses cannot be transmitted by air
  • COVID 19 is caused by vaccines
  • 5G mobile technology poisons cells and causes the illness known as COVID 19
  • Coronavirus is a hoax, in order to cover for the erection of 5G towers
  • COVID 19 is a “false flag” in order to force compulsory vaccinations
  • Colloidal silver cures and prevents COVID 19
  • Seven children died in a vaccination trial in Africa
  • Taking vitamins C, D and zinc, and drinking hot water, cures COVID 19
  • COVID 19 can be cured by drinking aspirin dissolved in hot water with honey
  • Wearing a facemask causes cancer
  • The pandemic is fake and will be used to microchip and enslave the public.

The findings are in stark contrast to public statements made by each social media company, claiming to be taking strong action to stamp out coronavirus misinformation. Facebook says it removes false information and conspiracy theories that could be harmful, including promotion of false cures or 5G conspiracy theories. Twitter has promised to remove tweets that deny the effectiveness of measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19, promote false cures for the disease or deny scientific facts about it. Instagram also claims it removes harmful misinformation related to COVID 19.

The research is published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Restless Development and was conducted by Youth Against Misinformation, a group of young activists coordinated and trained by Restless Development and the CCDH. The volunteers found and reported the misinformation posts between 20 April & 26 May.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said:

“In this pandemic, we all have to do our bit to keep our communities safe. Social media giants are shirking their responsibility to stop dangerous misinformation spreading. Their systems for reporting misinformation and dealing with it are simply not fit for purpose.

“Social media giants have claimed many times that they are taking COVID-related misinformation seriously, but this new research shows that even when they are handed the posts promoting misinformation, they fail to take action. What is a real kick in the teeth is that while they were shedding content moderators and complaint reviewers, Facebook nevertheless found $400 million dollars to buy a meme library.

“If social media giants continue to publish misinformation on their websites, then politicians need to hold them to account by imposing financial sanctions for the costs to the NHS, fire service, police and all of society that misinformation causes, and legislate for deeper, faster regulation.”

Rosanne Palmer-White, Director of Restless Development UK, said:

“Youth Against Misinformation is youth power in action. Young people are doing their bit to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 online, but social media companies are letting them and all of us down. This research shows they are failing to keep their promises despite the efforts of young people to help them take action on the infodemic. Actions speak louder than words; we urge these companies to listen to young people who are their allies in finding dangerous misinformation, removing it swiftly and stopping it doing harm.”

Sara, a Youth Against Misinformation activist who helped find and report the posts, said:

It’s discouraging to see such few pieces of misinformation removed, but it is particularly frustrating that there often doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which pieces are removed.

“However false something is, there is clearly no guarantee these platforms will take the responsibility to stop it spreading seriously.”

Read the briefing and the full report.