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Facebook pulls shocking coronavirus ads in SA

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Nunu Ntshingila, regional director of Facebook Africa.
Nunu Ntshingila, regional director of Facebook Africa.

Social media giant Facebook has ramped up efforts to fight misinformation about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in SA.

This as the Department of Health yesterday confirmed that as of Monday morning, SA had 62 confirmed and verified cases of COVID-19.

The department added there are more cases but these are yet to be verified.

In a statement, Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking platform, said with several new COVID-19 cases reported in SA, the firm has reinforced its commitment to helping keep people safe and informed locally through local partnerships, and updates to its platform.

This includes supporting health authorities and agencies. Facebook is partnering with organisations like health agencies and NGOs that are actively using its platforms to share accurate information about the situation, including on Pages.

To help bolster and extend these efforts, the company is also providing ad credits to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health in SA, to enable them to run coronavirus education campaigns on Facebook.

WhatsApp-based helpline

The social media company is also providing educational pop-ups on top of search results.

Local Facebook partner, Praekelt, is working with the National Department of Health to roll out COVID-19 Connect, a WhatsApp-based helpline developed to deliver accurate health information.

“Our ongoing work to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus also applies to advertising,” says Facebook.

“We launched a new policy prohibiting ads for products that refer to the coronavirus in ways intended to create a panic or imply their products guarantee a cure or prevent people from contracting it. This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods – like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus – or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available.

“We are also temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings that sell medical face masks.”

Facebook’s global network of third-party fact-checkers are continuing their work in reviewing content and debunking false claims that are spreading related to the coronavirus, says the company.

In SA, this includes local partners AFP and Africa Check. “Through our partnership with Africa Check, the following local languages are supported – Afrikaans, Zulu, Setswana, Sotho, Northern Sotho and Southern Ndebele,” says the company.

“As people come together on Facebook for this critical relief effort, we’re supporting the United Nations Foundation /WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Facebook Fundraiser with $10 million in matching donations. We’re also working with the CDC Foundation to launch a Facebook Fundraiser in the coming weeks, and we will also match up to $10 million,” it adds.

Facebook says on Instagram it has moved WHO and other authoritative sources to top of Search, so people can easily find the most accurate information.

“We are focused on connecting people with authoritative sources and reducing the spread of harmful misinformation, including in Groups. Anyone who searches for coronavirus-related groups is directed to credible information from health organisations. We already reduce the distribution of any groups that repeatedly share false news, and we are also starting to remove coronavirus-related groups and pages from the recommendations we show people.”

Regarding its creation of the Business Resource Hub, Facebook explains that supporting businesses being affected – directly or indirectly – by the outbreak of COVID-19, the hub features resources and recommendations to help small businesses stay connected to customers and keep their business on track.

It also includes quick and easy access to credible and accurate information about COVID-19 to help small businesses and the communities they serve, to stay informed.

Immense challenges

“We’re committed to partnering with governments, technology companies, and civil society to respond to the immense challenges presented at this time here in South Africa and across the African continent,” says Nunu Ntshingila, regional director of Facebook Africa.

“Ensuring people can access credible and accurate information on our platforms is vital, and we encourage all users to check the facts via official public health agencies before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them.

“During these difficult times, we’re also seeing heart-warming stories of communities around the world dealing with quarantines and other disruption to their daily lives, using the Internet to stay more connected and come together – for example, churches across the US and Italy holding services via Facebook Live, or local health agencies and ministries holding press conferences on the platform to update on the latest coronavirus news,” Ntshingila says.

Meanwhile, globally, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube issued a joint statement saying: “We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts.

“We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world. We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

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