Features

How Facebook is dealing with COVID-19: (Accidentally) removing articles, funding for fact-checkers and a WHO health alert

Facebook is on the front line of the various communication, information and connection issues which face communities and countries during the COVID-19 outbreak. Here, Mumbrella's Hannah Blackiston breaks down what the company has been doing as the crisis rolls on.

Speaking to reporters in San Francisco on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was pushing the social media company to its limits. His words came after a bug in the company’s anti-spam system blocked the publication of links to news stories about the coronavirus.

Links to stories from legitimate news outlets on the virus were blocked by the company’s automated system, which was reportedly unrelated to the fact the business sent its human moderators home days earlier.

On March 16, Facebook announced it had requested that anyone who could work from home would do so and that all contract workers who perform content review would be sent home. The work of content review cannot be performed from home due to safety, privacy and legal reasons.

“Given the rapidly evolving public health concerns, we are taking additional steps to protect our teams and will be working with our partners over the course of this week to send all contract workers who perform content review home, until further notice. We’ll ensure that all workers are paid during this time,” read a statement from Facebook.

Facebook said that during this time it may result in delays for ads and commerce listings, an increase in ads being incorrectly disapproved and delayed or reduced appeals.

Facebook also announced a partnership with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to launch a $1m USD grant program to support fact-checkers in their work around COVID-19. Facebook has a network of more than 55 independent fact-checking partners.

A week ago Facebook launched the Coronavirus Information Center which sits atop the Facebook News Feed to provide the latest news and information on the pandemic. It includes real-time updates from national health authorities and global organisations such as the World Health Organisation, as well as articles, videos and posts about social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

People can also follow the Coronavirus Information Center to receive updates from health authorities directly in their News Feed. The rollout began in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US before being expanded to other countries.

The Coronavirus Information Centre on Facebook [Click to enlarge]

Facebook’s Instagram also rolled out the feature

Facebook has also been very outspoken about its efforts on the vaccine side. It worked with the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organisation to start a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, where people could donate towards the relief efforts.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Zuckerberg’s charitable organisation he founded with his wife Priscilla Chan, has launched the ‘COVID-19 Task Force’ which aims to quadruple UCSF’s COVID-19 testing and diagnostics capacities by funding the acquisition of two state-of-the-art clinical diagnostic machines.

“As the coronavirus epidemic continues to grow, our ability to rapidly test and diagnose cases is critical,” said Chan Zuckerberg Biohub co-president, Joe DeRisi.

“Procuring these new diagnostic machines will have a significant impact on our ability to respond to the outbreak in a more streamlined way.”

Early on in the spread of the virus, Facebook took pre-emptive steps to help stop scams or price gouging by banning ads for medical face masks, hand sanitisers, disinfectant wipes and COVID-19 test kits. The company has also given each of its nearly 45,000 full-time employees a US$1,000 bonus to help them with any costs for childcare of their work-from-home setups.

In addition, the social media company announced a US$100m program to help small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic, with Facebook saying it will provide cash or ad credits to 30,000 businesses that are in need.

Facebook has struggled with its public image recently. The company underwent a branding change in 2019 in a bid to distance its parent company from the social media platform of the same name. It continues to face a number of investigations over the Cambridge Analytica hacking scandal and is one of the subjects of the ACCC’s ongoing Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI).

The platform is also facing increased usage as more people use it to connect with loved ones around the world and more workers are sent home.

Last week, Facebook, together with Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit and Twitter, issued a joint statement saying they were co-ordinating COVID-19 response efforts.

“We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world,” the companies said.

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