Social media platforms have taken unprecedented steps to fight misinformation online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some critics say they could still do more.
Facebook, Twitter and Google/YouTube have ramped up their efforts to police content that contains incorrect or harmful information, taking down the worst offenders, attaching warnings to content that has been fact-checked and linking to official sources, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada.
That includes posts such as a viral video by an American doctor on disciplinary probation in which he claims 5G technology causes coronavirus (it does not) or a false post implying the Canadian Armed Forces were in Toronto, but which turned out to be a photo of a tank taken during a festival in 2016.
On Thursday, Facebook said it has attached warnings to 40 million posts about COVID-19, and that 95 per cent of the time, users did not click through to see the content. Twitter says it has taken down over 2,000 tweets related to COVID-19 and “challenged” 2.8 million accounts, which can mean limiting who sees certain tweets, requiring a tweet to be removed or placing a warning on tweets that violate rules but are in the public interest to leave up.
The company also announced that it will be notifying users who have liked, commented on or reacted to content that was later deemed misinformation and taken down, by placing messages at the top of their news feed.
But, according to people who spend time monitoring false and misleading information, it’s still not enough.
“The number problem here is insurmountable. Fundamentally, Facebook is too large to monitor for this sort of thing,” said Robert Evans, a journalist for the open source investigative website, Bellingcat. “As somebody who spends a lot of his free time studying how disinformation spreads on a platform like Facebook, I don’t see how you could stop it without shutting large portions of the site down.”
WATCH | 5-G technology did not cause the COVID-19 pandemic:
“I think it’s disappointing to see that the social media platforms are not doing enough right now to combat misinformation, and some are doing a little bit of degrees better than others. But there are some that are really just dropping the ball right now,” said Susie Erjavec Parker, a social media and digital strategist in Winnipeg.
For example, users who want to report a tweet as disinformation on Twitter have no option to do so, she pointed out.
Cristina Tardáguila, associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at Poynter, says that she has seen platforms act more quickly and more effectively as a result of the pandemic, and they have been more open to discussing issues with fact checkers. She also noted that Facebook and WhatsApp have provided grants to the IFCN. On April 2, Facebook announced $1 million US in grants to fund 13 fact-checking organizations around the world in partnership with the IFCN.
“I would say Twitter needs to do a little bit more. Twitter has been deleting tweets that can cause harm, but we need to promote good content, too. It’s not just deleting, but it’s also exposing … what is being done by fact checkers,” said Tardáguila.
Platforms balance free speech and harm
Michelle Austin, head of public policy at Twitter Canada, said it’s “mission critical” for Canadians to have reliable, real-time information about COVID-19.
She said the company partnered with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in January, and anyone searching for the terms “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” will get a link to PHAC at the top of the results.
When it comes to cracking down on people maliciously spreading false information she said Twitter is being “extremely vigilant.”
But she said, “we realize people make mistakes. So we’ll give them a warning on their account, we’ll freeze that tweet and ask them to take it down. And in most cases, most people really aren’t trying to spread misinformation.”
Austin also said Twitter is mindful of not going too far.
“We certainly are trying to strike that delicate balance between freedom of speech, the ability to dissent when it comes to an idea, and we also are very cautious to be labelled the arbiters of truth,” she said. “But we have a comprehensive list of rules and regulations and guidelines that we are implementing on a daily basis with regard to COVID-19.”
Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, said finding a balance is also a challenge for his company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.
“What’s very important is to make sure that we do have this ability to provide people with as much space or freedom of expression as possible,” Chan said.
So for some false content, Facebook is including a warning label and linking to correct information provided by third-party fact checkers, instead of removing the content completely.
However, Chan said some things are black and white.
“For misinformation that actually does potentially lead to real-world harm, we are removing those things so they’re immediately off the system.”
At the same time, Chan said it will take longer than usual to review everything, as some staff are working from home without access to Facebook’s normal systems to protect private content.
“The fact is it is not business as usual,” Chan said. “That will have an impact on the ability for us to be as fast as we normally would be to review all the things that are reported to us.”
Google, which also owns YouTube, has taken a multi-pronged approach — restricting who can advertise with the keywords COVID, COVID-19 or coronavirus, demonetizing videos that talk about the virus, moving content from reliable sources to the top of searches and providing free banners and advertising to public health agencies.
“We’re committed to providing Canadians with authoritative information during this critical time and making sure quality content from sources like the Public Health Agency of Canada are easily accessible on Google,” said Colin McKay, head of public policy and government relations for Google Canada.
People trust family, friends more
But Evans is critical of one of the ways platforms are promoting reliable information.
“That’s not reducing disinformation. That’s adding a banner ad to disinformation. And that banner ad will just be ignored by the people who believe that this is a hoax.”
He added that Facebook’s challenge is even harder.
I absolutely think that they could be doing more. Now, the fact that they’re not doing more, I think, says a lot in terms of where their values lie and where their revenues are being driven from, which is advertising revenue.– Susie Erjavec Parker, social media and digital strategist
“Facebook is fundamentally based around sharing you content that your friends and family [presents] to you. And people trust their friends and family more than they trust the media — more than they trust the government.”
So, Evans said, “Facebook disinformation is particularly dangerous because it’s more personal.… I think the disinformation is more pervasive, and it sticks more in people’s heads.“
A silver lining
People might also trust influencers on Instagram, who often push beauty, fitness and fashion content by appearing relatable. But it can be difficult for the average person to evaluate that information, says Erjavec Parker, and platforms should play a role.
“I absolutely think that they could be doing more. Now, the fact that they’re not doing more, I think, says a lot in terms of where their values lie and where their revenues are being driven from, which is advertising revenue,” she said.
But, for others, like Tardáguila, there’s a silver lining in this.
“We are getting money … from platforms to do projects that were in our drawers for, I don’t know, for years,” said Tardáguila. “We want to fight disinformation, but we don’t have money, and now we do.“
Social media helps solve mystery of lost camera found in Kelowna’s Mill Creek – Globalnews.ca
Brianna Irawan, 13, was extremely happy after finding out on Thursday that her prized underwater camera that had been lost for almost a year had been found in Kelowna’s Mill Creek.
The Williams Lake teen was visiting relatives in Kelowna last year when she lost the camera while jumping into the waterfalls at Mill Creek Regional Park.
“We were on Mill Creek, jumping into the water and I put my camera underneath my clothes,” Irawan told Global News on Friday.
“When I jumped, I forgot about my camera, so I walked back up and then I picked up my clothes and I forgot my camera was underneath and it fell into the water.”
Social media helps solve mystery of lost camera found in Kelowna’s Mill Creek
She went back the creek several times over the next few days, but eventually had to write her camera off to the river gods.
The Fujifilm XP model wasn’t seen again until almost a year later when Calvin Van Buskirk found it caught up in some debris downstream.
“What makes it even more interesting is we found a GoPro there last year. You guys [Global News] were able to get the images and the videos off it within hours it found its way back to its rightful owner,” Van Buskirk said.
Construction crew makes unusual find near Kelowna
It took less than 24 hours for images retrieved from the camera to make their way around social media and back to their owner.
Kyla Irawan, Brianna’s mother, sent a message to Global News on Thursday afternoon through Facebook to say the photos had come from her daughter.
On Friday, Global News returned the camera — still in working order — to Brianna’s uncle, Travis Whiting, who is also Kelowna’s fire chief.
‘This is the craziest thing,’: Lost GoPro owner reunited with camera
The Irawans shared a message of gratitude with Van Buskirk.
“Thank you, Calvin, we totally appreciate your honesty,” said Kyla Irawan.
“Thank you for putting it on Global so I can give my daughter the opportunity to have all those memories back.”
For her part, Brianna said she can’t wait to see her FujiFilm XP model again.
“Soon as I get it, I’m going to transfer the photos” to a computer, she said.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Former UBC basketball assistant coach criticized for social media activity – The Province
Long-time assistant men’s basketball coach Vern Knopp will no longer work next to head coach Kevin Hanson.
The University of B.C. is distancing itself from former assistant men’s basketball coach Vern Knopp following questions about some of his activity on social media.
A Twitter account called Muted Madness pointed out on Thursday that Knopp had hit the like button on a video posted by conservative comedians the Hodge Twins on June 3 that claims the Black Lives Matter movement is a “leftist lie.”
A number of other Twitter users echoed the criticism of Knopp, who served as head coach Kevin Hanson’s volunteer assistant for the past two decades.
Later on Thursday, he shared a comment on his account, which is set to private: “So I never knew some likes to conservative posts would cause this shit storm? However my LIKES are those of mine and have nothing to do with UBC! I had told Coach Hanson months ago that I wasn’t returning to UBC but I just not (sic) made it public, only to my family.”
Reached via direct message on Friday, Knopp said he’d told Hanson about his decision in May as well as some parents on the team, but declined to make further comment.
Later on Thursday, Kavie Toor, UBC Athletics’ managing director, distanced the university from Knopp.
“Vern Knopp’s personal opinions, beliefs and social media endorsements do not represent the ideals and values of the UBC Thunderbirds. Vern Knopp is no longer a member of the Thunderbrids men’s basketball coaching staff,” he tweeted.
On Friday, the university’s athletics department declined to comment further.
The Alma Mater Society, a UBC students’ union, expressed support for the university’s position.
“The AMS is committed to supporting students from the Black community at this time, and we are actively working to develop programming to help combat anti-Black racism at UBC. The sentiments expressed by Mr. Knopp have absolutely no place at UBC, and society in general,” they said in a statement.
“We are encouraged to see that UBC Athletics and Recreation has taken a zero-tolerance approach to this issue.”
On Tuesday, the department shared a message on Twitter from university president Santa Ono.
“As Thunderbirds we join all of UBC in condemning racism in all forms. We are committed to an inclusive and respectful environment where we listen, learn and continue to grow together,” the department said in a tweet.
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Saskatoon police Cst. placed on leave in connection with 'concerning' social media posts – CKOM News Talk Sports
The Saskatoon Police Service has placed a constable on administrative leave regarding concerning posts on their personal social media account.
On Friday morning, police say they were notified about private posts that a member is accused of making on his personal social media account.
Police say the posts were harmful and offensive to the gender and sexually diverse community.
As a result, the member was immediately placed on administrative leave and an investigation was initiated regarding his conduct.
In a release, Chief of Police Troy Cooper said, “The relationship we have with the gender and sexually diverse community is incredibly important to the Saskatoon Police Service. I was to assure the public that we take these complaints seriously. We have acted swiftly to address the issue and a thorough investigation will occur.”
The 12-year member will remain on administrative leave while an investigation takes place.
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