Home / News / India /  Social media platforms step up efforts to fight vaccine-related misinformation

NEW DELHI : Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and Google are in overdrive to combat misinformation and fake news as India looks to extend its covid-19 immunization programme. The sites are tracking vaccine-related texts, photos, and videos, doing fact-checking, labelling posts, and even taking down misleading content and ads.

Google has announced a $3 million fund to fight misinformation around covid-19 vaccines globally and said it is working on rolling out information panels on Search connecting people to authorized information when they search for information about covid vaccines. Google will roll out these panels in languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.

“To help find accurate and timely information on vaccines, we’ve expanded our information panels on Search to more than 40 countries and dozens of languages, with more rolling out in the coming weeks. The information visible on these search panels is from authoritative sources, including India’s ministry of health and family welfare and other globally recognized medical resources," said the Google India spokesperson.

Facebook has eight fact-checking partners covering 11 Indian languages and English who are checking vaccine related posts and labelling the ones that are not correct as false. This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side-effects of the vaccines. Pages and groups that share hoaxes and conspiracy theories are being brought down in the news feed reducing their visibility. Ads or organic posts that promote the sale of or expedite access to vaccines will be rejected.

“We will continue to remove misinformation about covid-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm and direct people to our covid information centre. In December 2020, we began removing false claims about vaccines and will regularly update the claims we remove over coming months. For content we don’t remove, we work with independent fact-checkers to place warning labels to help people make informed choices," said a Facebook India spokesperson.

Twitter is also labelling tweets that advance unsubstantiated rumours, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines. In its latest transparency report that covered data from 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2020, Twitter said its teams took enforcement action against 4,658 accounts for violations of the policy regarding misleading information on covid released in March last year. The social media platform’s automated systems challenged 4.5 million accounts that were targeting discussions around covid-19 with spam or manipulative behaviour.

Digital experts believe that these platforms need to preserve data regarding their treatment of vaccine related misinformation, so that causation between such content and real-life events can be found.

“Additionally, these platforms have to create a higher degree of friction between users and misleading content, going beyond labelling posts and tagging them. These actions often go unnoticed by a large number of users as they are mostly in English," said Torsha Sarkar, a researcher at Bengaluru-based think tank Centre for Internet and Society.

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