Fake online Covid claims should be exposed by tech companies, health experts say | Health

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Tech companies should be forced to reveal the most viral Covid-19 material online to bring misinformation to the surface where it can be refuted, a public health coalition has urged.

Reset Australia has written to all federal parliamentarians urging the Australian government to mandate “live lists” which could even include demographic information of users sharing fake news about the pandemic.

It warned February’s vaccination drive could be derailed by “growing distrust” and false online claims.

The push is supported by the Doherty Institute, Immunisation Coalition and Immunisation Foundation of Australia.

Tech companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter have opposed reforms that would make them responsible for misinformation on their platforms, but the “live list” approach would constitute a lighter touch than mandating the material be removed.

Reset Australia wrote that “the deadly and hidden spread of Covid-19 misinformation on social media” is a vulnerability in Australia’s response to coronavirus.

“We know that misinformation, spread via platforms like Facebook, is hampering the efforts of Australian medical authorities,” it said, citing conspiracy theories that coronavirus is a government-led hoax or linked to 5G.

Reset Australia argued public health authorities know “very little about this misinformation and what kind of demographics are consuming it” as only tech companies have a “bird’s-eye view” on how they are spreading.

“As things stand, we are playing catch-up with a misinformation machine that is two steps ahead of us.”

According to a Reset policy document published in September, once misinformation gathers 1,000 or more impressions, tech companies should be forced to publish details of the post.

That would include information such as how many times it has been shared in public, in private and by bot accounts; and which public accounts have shared it.

If a post is shared by more than 100 users, the companies should be required to publish demographic information such as the gender, age, location and language of those sharing it.

Chris Cooper, the executive director of Reset Australia, said social media companies made “mega bucks” from amplifying sensationalist content and have “supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see”.

Catherine Hughes, from the Immunisation Foundation of Australia, said vaccine information “costs lives” as parents are “scared by online misinformation only to have their children pass away or suffer serious consequences from a vaccine-preventable disease”.

The 2019 election campaign was marred by widely-spread misinformation on social media claiming that Labor intended to introduce a death tax, prompting Labor to call for an investigation of Facebook’s failure to take the material down.

Before the 2019 election Facebook imposed limits on foreign ads and made greater use of factchecking, but did not deploy an “ad library” to disclose details of organisations posting political ads.

The Australian government has already asked tech and social media companies to devise a code of conduct setting out how they handle complaints and treat misinformation on their sites.

The code, to be administered by the Australian Communications Media Authority, is based around a graduated system of harm, with actions against fake news ranging from warning labels to removal of harmful material. It is expected to be implemented by mid 2021.

Labor has attacked the Coalition for failing to call out Covid-19 misinformation in its own ranks, including in August when it blocked a censure of Liberal MP Craig Kelly for misleading claims about the effectiveness of hydroxycholoroquine.

Earlier in January, the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, rejected unproven claims about Covid-19 treatments by Craig Kelly, who has since promoted the use of anti-parasitic drug ivermectin.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, held fire when asked about the controversial MP, saying only that while “there’ll be very different views, we listen to our medical advisers”.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Fake online Covid claims should be exposed by tech companies, health experts say | Health

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