Sunday, February 09, 2020

Infodemic Quarantine Explains My Two-Week Traffic Drop-off - Interweb Giants Indispensable to Control


NYTimes |  The reality is that the coronavirus is a rapidly spreading respiratory infection that originated in Wuhan, China. Most of the cases, and nearly all of the deaths, have so far been in China, though the germ has reached dozens of other countries in recent weeks.

Medical misinformation on the virus has been driven by ideologues who distrust science and proven measures like vaccines, and by profiteers who scare up internet traffic with zany tales and try to capitalize on that traffic by selling “cures” or other health and wellness products.

“There are self-appointed experts, people working from anecdote, or making up wild claims to get traffic or notoriety,” said Mr. Pattison of the W.H.O.

The groundwork for the coordination around the coronavirus was laid two years ago, when Mr. Pattison went to the W.H.O. general director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and suggested a full-blown effort to connect with social media titans to combat health misinformation. Now about a half-dozen W.H.O. staffers in Geneva are working on the issue, building relationships with digital and social media sites. Over time, the cooperative efforts have grown. For instance, last August, Pinterest teamed up with the W.H.O. to link to accurate information about vaccines when people search the service for that topic.

Ifeoma Ozoma, public policy and social impact manager at Pinterest, said the company “has been working with the World Health Organization over the last year,” with an aim to “make sure people can find authoritative information when it really counts.”

The W.H.O. seeks no money, nor pays any, in these relationships, Mr. Pattison said. Rather, he explained, it is lending its credibility and hoping to use “their reach.”
The relationship has borne concrete results.

Google launched what it calls an “SOS Alert,” which directs people who search for “coronavirus” to news and other information from the W.H.O., including to the organization’s Twitter account; that was expanded Thursday to include information in not just English but also French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The W.H.O. has also worked with the major Chinese-owned social media site WeChat to add a news feed featuring correct information, translated into Chinese by the W.H.O.
The health agency has worked especially closely with Facebook. The company has used human fact checkers to flag misinformation, which can come to their attention through computer programs that identify suspicious keywords and trends. Such posts can then be moved down in news feeds, or, in rare cases, removed altogether.