Tech Players Fight Fake News as Coronavirus Fears Escalate

On Apr 2, Facebook, Inc. FB launched a service in Italy that will allow users to verify the authenticity of any information related to novel coronavirus. The social media giant also launched a desktop version of its Messenger app on the same day for video chats.

Understandably, the first move is aimed at countering manipulated content and getting a grip over misinformation being circulated related to the pandemic. An increasing number of tech companies are trying to do their bit to help fight the deadly virus that has claimed more than 53,000 lives globally.

The desktop app launch is in keeping with the huge popularity that other videoconferencing apps have gained over the past few weeks with an increasing number of government restrictions on travel and border lockdowns.

The story doesn’t end with Facebook. Incidentally, tech giants Google-parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL and Twitter, Inc. TWTR are also doing their bit to curb misinformation on coronavirus. At the same time, tech companies are also using this opportunity to rebuild their image. Tech and Internet companies have time and again drawn the ire of regulators for the way they handle personal data and the role they play in spreading misinformation.

Facebook Rebuilding Image

In a fresh bid to fight manipulated content that might aggravate the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Facebook said that it is working with Italy’s Facta, which will be analyzing content circulated on WhatsApp, including photos, video and audio. Users can send content to Facta via a WhatsApp message to verify its accuracy.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in Italy and traffic on the platform has grown drastically since the country has been put under lockdown. However, it has also acted as a platform for hoaxes and misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Facebook has often been criticized by regulators for its privacy policy. Federal regulators have been scrutinizing how Facebook, Google, Twitter and others handle personal information amid rapidly increasing incidences of user data breach. WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide and has been making efforts to stop the spread of fake news related to the pandemic.

Other Tech Companies Adopt Similar Means

In its own image rebuilding exercise, Google on Apr 3 announced that it is pumping in $6.5 million into fact-checkers and nonprofits to ramp up its fight against coronavirus-related misinformation. Also, the search engine giant will start allowing some of its clients, including hospitals to run related advertisements on its platforms.

Google’s announcement reflects a change in its rule on ads around “sensitive events.” A couple of days back, micro blogging site Twitter removed more than 1,100 misleading and potentially damaging tweets since Mar 18 after it announced a new guidance that bars content which could prove to be harmful. This includes tweets from high-profile figures like the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela.

Last week, Apple Inc. AAPL, in collaboration with the White House Centre for Disease Control (CDS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, launched an app and a website that will allow users to do a self-screening for COVID-19. The app offers an online screening tool, information on the disease and guidance from the CDS on testing for coronavirus and emergency care.

Meanwhile, Netflix, Inc. NFLX has taken a different approach to help those indirectly affected by the outbreak. The streaming giant has created a $100 million relief fund to aid creatives impacted by coronavirus. Similarly, Spotify Technology S.A. SPOT has collaborated with quite a few verified organizations that offer worldwide financial relief to the needy in the music community through the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief project. Netflix carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy), while Facebook, Apple, Alphabet and Spotify each has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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