Facebook cracks down on coronavirus fake news and ‘supply hoarding’ ads in South Africa

Facebook says it will work with the South African government and fact-checking news groups to minimise the impact of fake news and misleading information around the coronavirus in South Africa.

“Facebook is partnering with organisations like health agencies and NGOs who are actively using its platforms to share accurate information about the situation, including on Pages.

“To help bolster and extend these efforts, the company is also providing ad credits to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health in South Africa to enable them to run coronavirus education campaigns on Facebook,” the group said.

It will also provide educational pop-ups on top of search results.

Other ways it will be working to ensure the most accurate information is published on the platform include:

WhatsApp API with the National Department of Health

Local Facebook partner, Praekelt, worked with the National Department of Health to roll out Covid-19 Connect, a WhatsApp-based helpline developed to deliver accurate health information. Visit: sacoronavirus.co.za/ or join the WhatsApp group on 0600 123 456 to receive the latest government updates.

Medical Supply Hoarding/Coronavirus Ad and Commerce Policy Changes

The group’s ongoing work to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus also applies to advertising.

“We launched a new policy prohibiting ads for products that refer to the coronavirus in ways intended to create a panic or imply that their products guarantee a cure or prevent people from contracting it, this includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods — like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus — or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available.

“We are also temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings that sell medical face masks,” it said.

Limiting misinformation and harmful content

“Our global network of third-party fact-checkers are continuing their work in reviewing content and debunking false claims that are spreading related to the coronavirus,” it said.

In South Africa this includes local partners AFP and Africa Check, through which the following local languages supported – Afrikaans, Zulu, Setswana, Sotho, Northern Sotho and Southern Ndebele.

Removing harmful health misinformation

Facebook will remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.

This includes claims designed to discourage treatment or taking appropriate precautions – for example, claims that drinking bleach cures the coronavirus.

Facebook will also block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram and conduct proactive sweeps to find and remove as much of this content as possible.

Facebook Groups

Anyone who searches for Coronavirus related groups is directed to credible information from health organisations.

“We already reduce the distribution of any groups that repeatedly share false news, and we are also starting to remove coronavirus related groups and pages from the recommendations we show people,” it said.

Creation of the Business Resource Hub

Supporting businesses being affected – directly or indirectly – by the recent outbreak of Covid-19, the Hub features resources and recommendations to help small businesses stay connected to customers and keep their business on track.

It also includes quick and easy access to credible and accurate information about Covid-19 to help small businesses and the communities they serve, stay informed.

Read: Mass quarantines, emergency funding, and avoiding panic buying – here’s South Africa’s coronavirus disaster plan

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Facebook cracks down on coronavirus fake news and ‘supply hoarding’ ads in South Africa