Jan 30, 2020 - Science

Big Tech tries to curb coronavirus misinformation

Illustration of a computer trying to avoid a virus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Big Tech companies are responding to the Chinese coronavirus outbreak in two main ways: limiting employee travel to China and trying to make sure their users have access to accurate health information.

Why it matters: Like the virus itself, the spread of misinformation is hard to slow.

Driving the news:

  • Google has temporarily shut its offices in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. (The mainland China office handles some sales and engineering for Google's ads business.)
  • Apple said Tuesday it has closed one store in the region.
  • All the big tech companies told Axios they are following CDC advice and limiting non-critical travel to China.
  • Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma is contributing $14.5 million to help fight the spread of the disease, per Bloomberg.

Our thought bubble: The big question now is whether the outbreak and travel limits lead to lost revenue or product delays.

Meanwhile: On the content front, Google, Facebook and Twitter are all taking steps to promote verified information.

  • Facebook has been giving ad credits to the World Health Organization and Philippines Department of Health to share information. It is also returning dedicated information modules when users search for terms related to the outbreak.
  • YouTube is returning text results when people search for "coronavirus" and other terms, reminding users that the situation is rapidly changing while also aiming to point to authoritative video results. Google is also trying to put extra focus on verified information in search results, including showing information that has been fact-checked where possible.
  • Twitter has adjusted its results to point to authoritative, local-language information when people search for virus-related terms.

At the same time, Bloomberg reports that false information is spreading fast. The Daily Beast reports that TikTok videos show teens pretending to have the disease.

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