The coronavirus has disrupted life as we know it. Billions of people across the world are caught in varying degrees of lockdowns with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. But while our physical world has shrunk, cyberspace remains wide open. And there is no shortage of information as the internet overflows with torrents of data, news, and updates about the ongoing crisis. But in parallel with the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has warned of an "infodemic" of mis- and disinformation spreading through social media and messaging apps.
Policymakers at social media platforms are acting like gatekeepers, deciding what content is sufficiently healthy for their users around the world to consume. These decisions have real consequences for the practical exercise of freedom of speech and access to information for billions of people. With me to discuss how Facebook is navigating this unprecedented situation is Monika Bickert, who is the Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook with responsibility for content moderation.
In this conversation we discuss:
- What policies Facebook has put in place to counter disinformation on its platforms;
- How much content has been downgraded and removed due to disinformation; compared to the period before COVID-19;
- How Facebook interprets the risk of "imminent physical harm" amidst a pandemic;
- How the shutdown has led to a sharp decrease of available content moderators and a reliance on automated content moderation to flag misinformation;
- Why Facebook has removed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's comments about the supposed effects of the drug hydroxychloroquine, but not President Trump's comments about the same drug;
- The pros and cons of relying on the guidelines of health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO to determine what constitutes misinformation even though these authorities have revised statements on issues such as the use of face masks (CDC) and the potential for human-to-human transmission (WHO);
- How Facebook uses a network fact-checkers to rate the truthfulness of stories, but who is fact-checking the fact-checkers?