Social media platforms not accurate sources of news on COVID-19

Posted on: March 5, 2020 by Claire Meadows

Social media platforms should not be considered an accurate source of news on the new coronavirus, the Society of Editors has warned.

The comments come after The Guardian reported yesterday that a post on Twitter wrongly claiming that antibacterial hand sanitiser is useless against the virus racked up a quarter of a million likes and almost 100,000 retweets before it was deleted. 

The UK fact-checking site Full Fact has also responded to a number of false or misleading posts circulating on social media platforms such as Facebook in relation to the new COVID-19 virus. A search by the Society of Editors has also found, amongst others, conspiracy theories linking the new coronavirus to the roll-out of 5G in China on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube alongside posts purporting to offer cures.

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “Social media is a breeding ground for fake news when people are scared and platforms such as Twitter and Facebook should not be viewed by the public as accurate or factually correct sources of news on the new coronavirus.

“Unlike mainstream media that continues to provide edited and factual news on COVID-19, social media is continuing to provide a platform for content that is inaccurate and misleading. More worryingly, we are also seeing cases where false and dangerous statements about the virus are being retweeted hundreds and thousands of times without care for their accuracy.”

Social media companies have issued statements on their efforts to tackle misinformation on their sites and, in the UK, searches for ‘coronavirus’ on Facebook and Twitter bring up links to official NHS guidance at the top of the pages and a YouTube search directs users to the World Health Organisation.

Murray added: “Unlike the mainstream media, social media can provide a platform by which inaccurate and harmful content can be published and shared before its accuracy has been verified. While the Society recognises that these companies are making efforts to tackle misinformation on their sites, more needs to be done to ensure that conspiracy theories do not run rampant and that, instead, users continue to be signposted to trusted and reputable sources of news and information such as that published by the mainstream media.”

The Society’s intervention follows its recent launch of a Campaign for Real News which intends to combat fake news through supporting both the mainstream media and emerging new media that recognise high standards of editorial excellence.

The Society said that, as recognised by the government, health officials and ministers had an ongoing responsibility to provide timely information to journalists to ensure that they could continue to keep the public accurately informed on the virus.

Murray added: “The UK media recognises that, as with all matters of public interest, it has a responsibility to provide the public with timely and factually correct, accurate information. The new coronavirus is no exception to this. Government ministers and health officials have a duty to continue to provide the media with information which it will continue to report responsibly for the public’s benefit.” 

Read more on the Society’s Campaign for Real News here.