Social media apps remove fake ads and outbreak news

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NEW DELHI : Social media platforms are filling up with fake news on everything from herbal ‘remedies’ to images mimicking government notifications, community content and audio clips warning of national emergency, amid coronavirus pandemic coronavirus, leaving government, civil society and the media stunned.

Fake news formats range from text, photoshopped images, gifs and videos to audio clips.

The lockdown has led to a significant increase in the number of users accessing and spending more time on social media. Users often use the Internet to chat, watch videos or access social media platforms, which have become their main source of information.

Facebook, with over 300 million users and WhatsApp with over 400 million users, are experiencing high levels of engagement, leading to relentless information sharing and misinformation.

With growing government pressure to tackle fake news related to covid-19, social media platforms are relying on fact checkers and users to report misinformation, which is spreading like wildfire. In the absence of intermediate guidelines, these companies are deploying measures themselves.

Facebook doesn’t just check facts. It also launched a messaging chatbot and banned ads or listings selling coronavirus-related products such as masks or sanitizers. “If we see people selling these products in organic posts on Facebook or Instagram, we remove them. We have also banned advertisements and trade listings that imply that a product guarantees treatment or prevents people from contracting covid-19,” a Facebook India spokesperson said.

WhatsApp, which has long dealt with fake news and hate speech, has launched a chatbot in partnership with the Ministry of Health to promote correct information about the novel coronavirus. The app launched a feature limiting transfers to one chat at a time. The limit will come into effect once a message has been forwarded five times on the platform, after which it can be forwarded to a WhatsApp group or individual at a time.

“We have announced the MyGov Corona Helpdesk on WhatsApp in partnership with the Government of India. Similar services have been introduced in several states in India to enable users to find credible and accurate information across the country, both in English and in their regional language, with other helplines expected to be launched in the coming weeks,” WhatsApp said.

Short video app TikTok has appointed an India-based grievance officer who is working closely with the government to verify misinformation and remove videos that provide incorrect information about the disease. TikTok has also introduced an in-app information page in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Union Ministry of Health.

“State government and police officials are invoking archaic provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and the Disaster Management Act 2005 to control the spread of false news. Social media companies are well equipped to expose hubs of mass-produced fake posts, but nothing concrete is being done about it. The indiscriminate arrest of individuals by police officers for sharing posts or tweets on Facebook has become the greatest challenge to freedom of expression and the rule of law,” said Virag Gupta, Attorney at Law supreme.

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