Tech

In Europe, COVID-19 misinformation runs rife on Facebook: report

Almost 40 Facebook pages across the European Union with large online followings continue to spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 despite the social networks promise to clamp down, according to an analysis published Tuesday by NewsGuard, an analytics firm that tracks misinformation.

Russian state media outlets in Germany claimed the public health crisis was a hoax. A Congolese preacher told his French followers the coronavirus could be a government bioweapon. Multiple Italian Facebook pages shared the same debunked rumors that lemon and hot water were a possible cure for COVID-19.

In total, 35 Facebook groups across France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom with roughly 13 million followers combined had posted false claims about the global pandemic. Almost all of the non-English language pages promoted misinformation that had not been flagged or fact-checked by the tech giant or its independent fact-checking partners, based on NewsGuards analysis. Last month, the company conducted a similar analysis in the United States that found Facebook pages with large followings had also posted bogus reports about cures and other conspiracy theories.

The research comes as Mark Zuckerberg, the companys chief executive, told the companys more than 2.2 billion users last month that he was going to extra lengths to stop the spread of coronavirus-related misinformation. Efforts include informing people if they have viewed or engaged with online falsehoods that were later removed from the global platform.

For state-backed media outlets like RT, the crisis has been used to promote existing anti-Western views through the prism of COVID-19.

“Everyone and anyone is writing about the coronavirus crisis, and they want to join the conversation,” said Chine Labbe, a senior editor for France at NewsGuard, who helped to compile the research, in reference to these Facebook pages with large online followings. “These hoaxes are getting so viral.”

In response, Facebook said it had displayed warnings on millions of COVID-19 social media posts, based on thousands of reports by independent fact-checkers, to warn people about potential false content. The company also had created an online center of articles written by outside groups dedicated to debunking coronavirus misinformation.

“Weve directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities through our COVID-19 information center,” Claire Lerner, a company spokeswoman, said in a statement, adding that 350 million of its users had clicked on that information.

In its analysis of misinformation on Facebook, NewsGuard limited its search to Facebook pages across many of Europes major languages that had more than 40,000 likes.

The company then focused on pages that had specifically shared false content about COVID-19, based on their independent database of coronavirus misinformation, and that were still active as of May 4, the day before the report was published.

The analytics firm found that these Facebook pages — ranging from RT Deutschland, the German language site of the Kremlin-backed media outlet, to Sinformer autrement, a French-language conspiracy Facebook page — had posted content that either contained falsehoods or outright lies about the public health crisis. Of the roughly 60 misinformation posts that NewsGuard reviewed, only three of them, in French, had carried a fact-checking warning label to say the content was unreliable, according to the company. The sample size was small compared to the millions of Facebook posts published each day.

None of the posts in either German or Italian had a similar warning compared to more than 60 percent of similar falsehoods posted by either American or British Facebook pages that had been flagged by NewsGuard.

Different tactics

Across Europe, Facebook pages used different tactics to reach online audiences, though NewsGuard did not find evidence of coordinated activity between the groups.

For state-backed media outlets like RT, the crisis has been used to promote existing anti-Western views through the prism of COVID-19. In Germany, the Kremlin-backed outlets Facebook page has roughly 440,000 likes, and promoted half-truths about the failure by Europe and the United States to respond to the crisis, as well as widely-debunked conspiracy theories about where the virus may have originated, according to a review of its Facebook posts.

In France, the Epoch Times, a media outlet with ties to Chinas Falun Gong religious movement that has often peddled falsehoods on both sides of the Atlantic, suggested on its Facebook page that COVID-19 may have been created in a laboratory — claims that have similarly been made by some leading politiciaRead More – Source

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