Social media, health advocates team up
With the spread of the coronavirus comes the parallel spread of misinformation, leaving big social media sites scrambling to keep the fake news off their platforms.
In Thailand, social media companies are not just protecting their users from bad information, but from legal liability, as the government is monitoring social media and has gone as far as prosecuting individuals spreading false information.
Just in recent weeks, two Thais were arrested for fake news, one for posting a false article on Facebook that claimed a person had died from the virus in Pattaya, and another for sharing a video that claimed a Chinese man had fainted from the virus at Suvarnabhumi airport. Turns out, it was a Korean tourist who drank too much alcohol.
Despite the heavy-handed policing, fake news continues to spread. On one Thai-language Facebook group discussing the spread of the coronavirus, one user posted a recipe for a supposed "cure" that was a mixture of cinnamon, shrimp paste and red wine.
On the English-language Facebook group "Coronavirus Thailand", one administrator posted a chart seeming to imply that the entire world population would be infected with the disease by September.
Facebook has implemented various measures to guide its users towards credible sources of information like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Thailand's Department of Disease Control (DDC). There are 50 million registered Facebook users in Thailand.
"In Thailand, Facebook is working with the Department of Disease Control to effectively disseminate information about how Thai people can help prevent the spread of the disease," said a Facebook representative. "We are rolling out a search function on Facebook and Instagram via hashtags where people will be linked to the DDC's information page for information about the coronavirus."
Facebook has an acting policy to remove content with misinformation that could lead to physical harm. The company says it is including fake news about the coronavirus in this policy and is actively removing posts deemed by its team of fact-checkers to be false or conspiracy theories flagged by the WHO.
The social media giant says it's cracking down on fake cures for the coronavirus, like one that spread around the internet claiming drinking bleach would cure the disease.
"We will help people get relevant and up-to-date information from partners through messages on top of the news feed on Facebook; these will be deployed based on guidance from the WHO," the representative said. "When people search for information related to the virus on Facebook or tap a related hashtag on Instagram, we will surface an educational pop-up with credible information."
Last year, Facebook launched its "fake-news checker" in Thailand that uses a combination of artificial intelligence and fact-checkers from the AFP news agency to flag fake news and provide links to alternative articles from reputable news organisations.
Twitter says it is not seeing an uptick of disinformation as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but like Facebook it provides links to the WHO when people search for hashtags related to the virus.
"To help people access credible information, especially when it comes to public health, we've adjusted our search prompt in key countries across the globe to feature authoritative health sources when you search for terms related to novel coronavirus," said a Twitter representative.
While fake news often gets shared on Line, the most popular messaging app in Thailand, the company is unable to stop false information being shared via messages because the messages are encrypted.
The Line Today function, which provides a feed of news articles, is working with the DDC to disseminate factual information and to ensure that news sources on Line Today are reputable and accurate.
According to a representative from Line, there has been a small increase in the number of articles pulled from the app after the coronavirus outbreak, but not a significant amount.