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Sat Apr 4, 2020, 09:09 PM

How Coronavirus Disinformation Gets Past Social Media Moderators

April 3, 2020By Robert Evans

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced social media companies to take a more active stance against disinformation. The most striking recent example came on March 31, when Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all banned videos from Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. These videos featured Bolsonaro advising the use of an antimalarial, chloroquine, to treat the novel coronavirus. Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, had a post on the same subject removed a few days earlier.

Rumors about chloroquine had been spreading for days by this point, spurred on by President Trump’s voicing support for usage of the medicine during a March 20 press briefing. Three days after that briefing, a man died after taking a substance he believed was the same as chloroquine. His wife, who also took the substance, was hospitalized. Then, a little over a week later, a world leader was prohibited, by every major social media service, from spreading chloroquine disinformation again.

The buzz around chloroquine represents a type of disinformation that is simple — and it is therefore easy for social media companies to have a clear stance on it. Doctors do not advise people to take chloroquine to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus, and so anyone saying otherwise is clearly spreading disinformation. When institutional will exists, businesses can easily build policies around stopping the spread of a potentially dangerous “cure.”

Yet the most insidious information being spread about the coronavirus is not so easily stopped. In fact, a loose, headless network of media personalities and news websites has developed a fairly robust strategy for spreading coronavirus lies on social media — while also evading bans.


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