Virus content against govt guidelines to be removed: Facebook

Updated Apr 24 2020

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Pakistan reports 42 virus-related posts to social media platform. — AFP/File
Pakistan reports 42 virus-related posts to social media platform. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Facebook will remove any content pertaining to the novel coronavirus which is against the guidelines issued by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Facebook’s Public Policy Manager for Pakistan Sarim Aziz said that anything that went against the WHO recommendations and contravened the guidelines issued by the federal and provincial governments would be removed from Facebook’s platforms for violation of its policy.

“In Pakistan, we are working with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination (NHSRC) and provincial governments, as well as world organisations such as WHO and Unicef to provide accurate information about Covid-19,” he said.

The Facebook official added that the social media platform had established a dedicated channel for the federal and provincial governments so they could share listings which they believed violated local laws.

According to the Pakistan Telecommuni­cation Authority (PTA), so far 42 items related to Covid-19 have been reported to Facebook by Pakistan.

Pakistan reports 42 virus-related posts to social media platform

Mr Aziz shared that teams were monitoring the Covid-19 situation closely and would make necessary updates to the company’s policies if they saw people trying to exploit this public health emergency.

Facebook said it would also start removing content with false claims or conspiracy theories that had been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believed them. “We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm,” said Mr Aziz.

Moderation of Covid-19 content

Detailing how the company was applying its community standards around Covid-19, the Facebook official said the platform would remove content for coordinating harm, hate speech and bullying and harassment.

Content that encourages the further spread of Covid-19 would be removed under coordinating harm. For example, a post encouraging people to go to mosques when the federal or provincial government has advised otherwise will be removed by the platform for violation.

Posts that claim a protected characteristic has, is spreading, or is responsible for the existence of Covid-19 or which mocks a protected characteristic for having Covid-19 would be removed for hate speech. This applies to racism and communalism.

Under bullying and harassment, violation would apply to claims that a private individual has coronavirus or that people are not following guidance to self-isolate, when such information is not publicly available or declared. Posts that downplay the pandemic, encourage hoarding and panic-mongering, spreading false cures and posting identifiable pictures of patients in hospital without their permission are some examples of violating content on Facebook platforms.

In March alone, 40 million Facebook warnings were issued to pages in relation to Covid-19 misinformation, Mr Aziz said, adding that 95pc of people did not go to view the content once they saw the warning.

However, with a reduced workforce during the pandemic, Facebook is now increasingly reliant on artificial intelligence and automated systems for content moderation — putting in question the platform’s enforcement on misinformation that is local or driven by cultural and religious context.

Answering a question by Dawn, Mr Aziz said that besides relying on automated systems to detect and remove violating content, the platform was also prioritising user reports with the greatest potential to harm the community. Facebook allowed appeals for people to disagree with its decisions to remove content, he added.

Ban on product ads

Facebook has banned advertisements of coronavirus-related products on its platform in order to avoid possible manipulations by mischievous elements.

“Globally, and in Pakistan, we are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings, like those on marketplaces, of businesses selling medical face masks mentioning that they are for Covid-19,” said the public policy manager.

The company has already prohibited people from making health or medical claims related to Covid-19 in product listings, including those advertisements that guarantee a product would prevent someone from contracting the virus.

Misinformation on WhatsApp

WhatsApp, a product of Facebook, had introduced a limitation for forwarding messages to only five people, following which it witnessed a 25per cent decline in forwarded messages globally.

In its latest effort to contain the spread of viral information on WhatsApp, a person will now only be able to share highly forwarded messages to one person instead of five.

Responding to a question, Mr Aziz said WhatsApp and other Facebook platforms had been witnessing double than usual traffic throughout the globe which might be the reason why users may find the services slowed down.

Facebook said it was making it easy to find help, training and support for small business communities from its teams. In Pakistan, Facebook is hosting webinars to educate clients about the changes in user behaviors during Covid-19 to help them pivot their strategy during this period.

To empower the local startup community, Mr Aziz said, Facebook would conduct weekly online sessions to equip early-stage startups with necessary training and tools to scale their business ideas into investable companies.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020