In a joint statement on the current ark, the largest Internet companies swear themselves to the fight against fake news. Together they want to stop the spread of false information and fraudulent practices on the net. Unfortunately, Facebook has so far shown little skill and is also blocking trustworthy sources. This is how a problem is fought with a new problem.
As colleague Daniel had already shown with five examples, false information and attempts at fraud are also rampant online parallel to the pandemic. These are preferably spread to unsuspecting victims who have been bombarded with news and information on Facebook, Twitter, or directly in Google search results.
The corporations now want to combine their Internet supremacy and declare war on such scammers. To announce this, they published a jointly signed statement ... on Twitter:
The technology industry is working closely together in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world on COVID-19 response efforts. Read our full statement. pic.twitter.com/Xn0fhyJLXm— Google Public Policy (@googlepubpolicy) March 17, 2020
Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, and Twitter want to exchange know-how in the future in order to better distinguish fake from fact using machines. So far, Reddit refers its users mainly to the US-American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as soon as they search for terms like "coronavirus" or "COVID-19". Google's 'detect' feature has recently added a 'report button' where users can report suspicious news.
Facebook already proves that this does not work
A user-fed fake-recognition algorithm can of course be tricked by the same forces that made it up. The most recent evidence is provided by Facebook, which, according to an Ars-Technica report, had also ruled out legitimate information portals. Users reported that on the bulletin board or in groups, news about coronavirus had disappeared and they had received a warning for spreading fake news. Even the aforementioned Ars-Technica report on the subject later fell victim to this filtering.
Misinformation then becomes missing information; this cannot be a solution. Facebook is working on the problem, the report states. Hopefully, together with Google and the others, they need to find a way to take less sweeping action against corona-related content. Some report that even Facebook's aggressive filters have thwarted fundraising calls - in countries with struggling health systems, such funds mean the difference between life and death.
Although the planned algorithms are expected to improve, they still leave a significant blind spot - affecting two billion users.
Fake news spreads unnoticed in WhatsApp chats
WhatsApp has made attempts at limiting the spread of fake news before. But so far, no one can provide a comprehensive recommendation on how to deal with the problem. Unlike Facebook posts (or chat messages), WhatsApp messages cannot be read by servers. The otherwise laudable end-to-end encryption renders the above-mentioned methods for combating fake news ineffective.
At best, the senders of chain letters could be blocked globally, since the meta data is known to the WhatsApp servers. What would otherwise be a point of criticism of privacy with the messenger benefits the current situation. So if you notice a contact or number through particularly aggressive chain letter spam and scare tactics: report him/her!
How to stop consuming fake news
So how do you get reliable information? For this global event there are websites from all over the world that provide excellent, up-to-date information. Stick with the big names we all know and love. These guys are accountable. In the UK, the BBC is impartial and accurate, for example.
Don't believe everything you read on social media. But most of all, if something looks fishy or you can't verify the information, don't share it with your family and friends. Stop the spread, use your head!