Most COVID-19 Misinformation Originates on Facebook, Research Suggests

Misinformation about COVID-19 is more likely to be sourced from Facebook compared to Twitter or YouTube, research suggests.

Analysis of a dataset containing thousands of claims determined to be misleading or false by a global collective of fact-checkers indicates the Mark Zuckerberg-led social network was the source of more misleading content than rival platforms.

The research, conducted by Press Gazette, found that 4,094 of 7,295 misleading claims about the coronavirus originated on Facebook. In comparison, 1,066 false claims were traced to Twitter, 999 on WhatsApp, 265 on YouTube and 90 on Instagram.

The team's stats were gleaned from the Coronavirus Facts database, a project being led by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter Institute.

Since January, as COVID-19 was first spreading across the globe, the project has grown to include over 100 members across 70 countries, in what has been described as "largest collaborative project ever launched in the fact-checking world." It is updated daily, with participants uploading falsehoods discovered online from general users and politicians.

Every record is dated and published alongside a description of the comment and where it was initially found, be it Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube or elsewhere. Poynter says that combating misinformation during pandemics is vital to public health, with the spread of rumors resulting in a "universal infodemic."

According to Press Gazette, the data suggests Facebook is lagging behind rivals when it comes to combating false information about the disease, which has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths globally and is still spreading rapidly in the U.S.

Its team found "at least 30" false or misleading statements had been traced back to president Donald Trump. India saw the most pieces of COVID-19 misinformation, with 1,485 of the claims coming from there. It was followed by the U.S., with 954.

A Facebook spokesperson told Newsweek the company had removed "hundreds of thousands of pieces of COVID-19-related misinformation." This included content that could "lead to imminent harm including posts about false cures, claims that social distancing measures do not work and 5G causes coronavirus."

"During March and April, we put warning labels on about 90 million pieces of COVID-19 related misinformation globally, which prevented people viewing the original content 95 percent of the time. We've also directed over two billion people to resources from the WHO and other health authorities... and pop-ups," the spokesperson added, via email.

The research comes as Facebook executives face an massive advertising boycott that has grown to include hundreds of companies in the U.S., including Unilever, Starbucks, Adidas, Lego, Ford, Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Target Ben and Jerry's and more.

The coalition of civil rights groups that launched the campaign last month accused the social network of failing to adequately combat hate speech and extremism.

According to The Information, Zuckerberg did not appear worried during a virtual town hall held last week. "We're not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue," Zuckerberg reportedly said. "My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty