As global Covid-19 death and infection numbers keep soaring, global social media company Facebook has devised a raft of measures to protect its more than 3 billion users against misinformation through its three platforms – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The company has launched a new policy prohibiting ads for products that refer to the coronavirus in ways intended to create panic or imply that their products guarantee a cure or prevent people from contracting it.

“This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods, like drinking bleach, or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available. We are also temporarily banning ads and commerce listings​ that sell medical face masks,” a statement seen by Afcacia says.

The social media giant is partnering with global and local health agencies that are actively using its platforms to share accurate information about the situation.

Facebook’s head of public policy for East and Horn of Africa, Mercy Ndegwa says that the company is also partnering with governments, technology companies, and civil society to respond to the immense challenges presented at this time. 

“We also encourage all users to check the facts via official public health agencies before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them, and to engage directly with trusted and official sources for important information,” she advises.

On WhatsApp, which is the leading social media platform in Kenya, the number of times highly forwarded chats can be forwarded again has been reduced to limit the spread of harmful misinformation around the coronavirus.

“Once a message is labelled “highly forwarded” with the double arrow icon, it will only be possible to forward that message to one WhatsApp chat at a time as opposed to five as previously,” reads the statement. 

With billions of people in isolation from each other due to Covid-19, more than ever, people all over the world are relying on social media to communicate with their extended families, doctors, teachers and friends during this crisis. However, there has been a significant increase in the number of unverified information being forwarded on WhatsApp, which has contributed to the spread of misinformation.

Last year WhatsApp began to label messages that had been forwarded more than five times with a double arrow icon in the top left-hand corner of the message, so that people could see when a message did not originate from a close personal contact.

Last October, WhatsApp also introduced new controls for users over who can add them to a group with the change designed to give users greater control over their WhatsApp experience while also helping to contain the spread of misinformation. This control can be accessed within the app through Settings – Account – Privacy – Groups.

Earlier in 2018 WhatsApp began labelling messages that had been forwarded with a single arrow icon and later in the year made the first change to its “forward limits”, by dropping the forward limit for all messages from 20 to just five.

 “This one change for the forward limit alone resulted in a 25 percent decrease in messages that were being forwarded on the service – which roughly translated as 1 billion fewer messages being forwarded every day.” 

The reduction to just one forward from five is also expected to tame the spread of fake news, and cyber-attack attempts now that social media platforms are recording more traffic as people keep working from home.

On Instagram, the company has moved World Health Organisation (WHO) and other authoritative sources to top of Search, so people can easily find the most accurate information.

“We’ll also no longer allow people to search for Covid-19 related Augmented Reality (AR) effects, unless they are developed in partnership with a recognized health organization,” says Ms Ndegwa.

A global network of third-party fact-checkers have been deployed to review content and debunk false claims that are spreading related to the coronavirus on Instagram and Facebook. 

Anyone who searches for coronavirus related groups on Facebook is directed to credible information from health organizations.

“We already reduced the distribution of any groups that repeatedly shares false news, and we are also starting to remove coronavirus related groups and pages from the recommendations we show people,” she adds.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), Facebook is erasing all false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.

“We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm. We’re focusing on claims that are designed to discourage treatment or taking appropriate precautions.”

Recently, Facebook partnered with the Ministry of Health in Kenya to launch a WhatsApp Business API (Application Programming Interface), a dedicated coronavirus hotline – 0110-719719 that has enabled Kenyans to get answers to the most common questions about coronavirus.


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