$800m in support, promoting reliable news resources and government ad credits: How Google is managing COVID-19

Google has announced a number of initiatives in its bid to support the battle against coronavirus (COVID-19) and surrounding misinformation, including pledging $800m for small businesses and health organisations and a focus on reliable news resources. Here are the areas the tech giant is focusing on.

The big tech companies have been vocal in their response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, pledging to fight fake news and donating money to support small businesses. Critics have pointed to the fact that both Facebook and Google didn’t have the best public personas before the crisis began, with both battling the Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI) in Australia and bigger issues overseas, and continuing to attract the ire of publishers who don’t believe they are playing fairly.

Google says it is fighting fake news 

Facebook announced early on it would be focusing on the demise of fake news – particularly important during a global health crisis – and using its several platforms to promote correct, WHO-approved (World Health Organisation), information.

Correct information is a sticking point for Google too, with Mel Silva, managing director of Google Australia, saying the focus is on promoting information from government and health authorities in the searches.

“We’ve also provided ads credits to the Australian Government to help communicate information to the public, while the Department of Health’s Coronavirus Australia App, built on Google Cloud, provides real-time information and advice about the fast-changing pandemic,” says Silva.

The tech platform has launched a COVID microsite which will feature the latest updates and health resources. Using location history, the platform will also provide local insights and restrictions to users.

Silva says Google is doing its best to support the government and health organisations in the fight against COVID-19

Google’s video streaming platform YouTube has been battling against fake news since the beginning of the pandemic, with thousands of videos already being removed. This battle will continue, with a focus on the removal of unproven medical information. YouTube has repeatedly come under fire in the past for its lack of content control and its supposed inability to provide a safe space for advertisers. That’s a real focus going forward, says Silva.

“We’re building on these efforts in the months ahead to ensure people have access to reliable information. In Australia, we’re supporting the Australian Science Media Centre to connect fact-checkers and reporters to expert individuals and organisations around the COVID-19 crisis,” she says.

“We’re also supporting the Walkley Foundation as it provides crucial training and resources for journalists working remotely, and expanding our global investment in fact-checking organisation First Draft to strengthen efforts to combat misinformation.”

Google has pledged $800m to support small businesses, health organisations and governments through finance, ad credits and grants, and more opportunities for local small businesses to be trained in digital skills. Silva says the tech giant will be trying to enable businesses to work remotely and navigate the challenges of COVID-19.

“We have launched a website to help Aussie businesses navigate through the uncertainty of COVID-19 and are working with business organisations such as the Business Council of Australia, ACCI and COSBOA to share resources that may be of assistance,” says Silva.

“We have made the premium version of our video conferencing software Meet free to all of our Australian and global G-Suite customers until September 2020, to allow large meetings, live streams and meeting recordings.”

Nonprofits will be able to access the tools through the Google for Nonprofits program, with Silva saying more than 8,000 have already signed up for the service. The business will be working with governments to offer support to relief initiatives and build economic resilience in local regions and will match employees’ charitable donations.

Lastly, Google is focusing its attention on teachers and students. Hangouts, Meet and Google Classroom have all been made free for educators and students and those providing education on Youtube, like Australian math teacher Eddie Woo, will see that content boosted by the platform.

Silva: Google is doing what it can

“All schools in Australia have access to expedited G0Suite for Education domain sign-ups (free) and we are working with education departments around the country to pre-approve school domains to help educators and learners continue their teaching and learning remotely and explore further opportunities for support,” says Silva.

“We all know the power of great teachers and inspiring lessons, and we hope these steps will help our kids continue to learn from home, and return energised when school returns.”

More announcements are expected from Google in the future, as it continues to lend its hand to the COVID-19 fight. The business hasn’t escaped criticism during the pandemic – the ACCC has used the closure of regional media as a chance to add another level to the argument against the digital platforms and Australian media companies have asked the government to turn its spend away from the global companies and focus it nationally.

But Silva says the company feels a responsibility to its users and will continue to do what it can during the pandemic.

“The spread of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the health, jobs and lives of millions of Australians and people around the world. We’ve all had to make fundamental changes to the way we live and work, and businesses everywhere have been impacted. Yet we’ve also heard inspiring stories of health care workers on the front lines, businesses providing vital resources and support, and families and communities being there for one another—showing us that if everyone plays their part, we can and will get through this together,” says Silva.

“COVID-19 puts intense demands on us all, and we’re determined to uphold our responsibility in this unprecedented time: to enable access to trusted information, support remote learning, back small businesses, and more. These initiatives are just the start. We continue working to help Australians deal with COVID-19 and shape a stronger future.”


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