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Tech giants battle infection with coronavirus fake news and conspiracy theories

Technology giants Facebook, Google and Twitter are desperately tying to stop misinformation about the Wuhan coronavirus spreading online.  

Viral posts have been doing the rounds on Twitter, including claims the killer condition can be treated with oregano oil and people calling it a ‘fad disease’.

Other outlandish hoaxes doing the rounds on social media include the implication the US government has patented coronavirus.

Fact-checkers have found this to be completely untrue and the Silicon Valley tech firms are battling to stop such claims from spreading to avoid mass hysteria. 

A total of 18 nations including the US, Australia, Canada and France, have confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The disease is now confirmed to have infected at least 4,500 people around the world and to have killed 106 in China since the outbreak a month ago.


The above picture shared by China’s National Microbiology Data Center shows the first-ever specimen of the novel coronavirus, known as ‘2019-nCov’, extracted from a patient

Thai Airways employees are pictured disinfecting an empty plane cabin at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok today, January 28. Thailand has 14 confirmed coronavirus cases – the most outside of China

Thai Airways employees are pictured disinfecting an empty plane cabin at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok today, January 28. Thailand has 14 confirmed coronavirus cases – the most outside of China

The Washington Post reports that the cyber-world has also been infected with various factually incorrect conspiracy theories. 

Facebook confirmed to the Post that seven partner organisations had issued nine fact-checks on coronavirus.

When these were brought to the attention to Facebook, they were labelled as inaccurate and downgraded in users’ feeds. 

‘This situation is fast-evolving and we will continue our outreach to global and regional health organisations to provide support and assistance,’ Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to the newspaper. 

One post claimed oregano oil was effective against coronavirus. This is false and experts have said a vaccine could take as long as two months to create. 

The post was widely shared across several closed groups on Facebook but dates back to an original post more than ten years old. 

The killer coronavirus outbreak has now killed 106 people and struck down more than 4,500. Cases have been spotted in Canada, US, France and Australia

Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don't realise they have the infection

Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don’t realise they have the infection

Twitter is also trying to guide users away from nonsense posts that could threaten people’s safety, and towards legitimate sources. 

In the US, this includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Google-owned YouTube said its algorithm also prioritises more credible sources. 

Despite these efforts, false information is still getting a lot of traction in dark corners of the sites, with some videos racking up hundreds of thousands of views.   

For example, a prominent Twitter user called coronavirus a ‘fad disease’ and alluded to the claim of the government buying a patent. 

Fact-checkers comprehensively disproved this, but the tweet still received 5,800 likes. 

A YouTube video, accusing the ‘deep state’ government of using coronavirus to draw attention away from President Trump’s impeachment has also been viewed more than 2,000 times.

While tech companies can screen these posts from mainstream view, by deprioritising them in search results, they still exist on the web and, once found, can lead users into a labyrinth of conspiracy theories. 

Farshad Shadloo, a spokesperson for YouTube, said the company is ‘investing heavily to raise authoritative content on our site and reduce the spread of misinformation on YouTube’.

While Twitter’s spokesperson, Katie Rosborough, added policies are in place that prohibit co-ordinated efforts to mislead people. 

She said the company also is expanding a feature in the Asia-Pacific region so that ‘when an individual searches a hashtag they’re immediately met with authoritative health info from the right sources up top’, the Washington Post reports. 

Social media firms have recently come under criticism for failing to take stern enough action on health misinformation.

Anti-vaxxers influencing people to not give their children routine jabs have found a devoted following on social media. 

Health experts have repeatedly called for action to stop the spread of these claims, which contradict all of modern science.  

Coronavirus: What we know so far 

What is this virus?

The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold.

But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

Can it kill?

Yes, 106 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus. 

What are the symptoms?

Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.

How is it detected?

The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.

To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.

How did it start and spread?

The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.

Cases have since been identified elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.

What are countries doing to prevent the spread?

Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.

Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.

Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?

Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere



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