WHO says fake coronavirus claims causing 'infodemic'

By Zoe Thomas
Technology reporter

  • Published
Andrew Pattison from the WHO
Image caption,
Andrew Pattison from the WHO travelled to the US to speak with tech firms directly about misinformation on the coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging tech companies to take tougher action to battle fake news on the coronavirus.

The push comes as a representative from the WHO travelled to Silicon Valley to speak directly to tech firms about the spread of false information.

The WHO has labelled the spread of fake news on the outbreak an "infodemic".

Over 1,000 people have died as a result of the outbreak, which began in central China but has spread globally.

Andrew Pattison, digital business solutions manager, for the WHO said false information was "spreading faster than the virus".

Bogus claims that the virus was spread by eating bat soup or could be cured by garlic have already swept the web.

'Not based on science'

Mr Pattison spoke on Thursday to a meeting of tech companies hosted at Facebook's headquarters in Mountain View California.

Other firms in attendance included Google, Apple, Airbnb, Lyft, Uber and Salesforce.

Earlier in the week, he held talks with Amazon, at the e-commerce giant's headquarters in Seattle.

Image source, Tiktok

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus was labelled a public health emergency, books on the disease - which Mr Pattison said were not "based on science" - have been popping up for sale on the e-retailer.

The WHO is also concerned that when users search for the term coronavirus on Amazon, listings for face masks and vitamin C boosters come up. Vitamin C has been listed as one of the fake cures for coronavirus.

Social media firms have already taken some steps to remove false claims and promote accurate information.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and TikTok are already directing users that search for coronavirus on their sites to the WHO or local health organisations.

People searching on Google's search engines, meanwhile, are shown news and safety tips. Facebook has said it will use its existing network of third-party fact-checkers to debunk false claims.

Mr Pattison said this was an opportunity for these firms to rethink how they addressed misinformation.

"I think what would be very exciting is to see this emergency changed into a long-term sustainable model, where we can have responsible content on these platforms."

The WHO has faced criticism of its own for the way it has tried to manage the crisis.