As the COVID-19 outbreak rolls on, many opportunistic actors are now stepping in, spreading misinformation and false reports in order to sow fear, gain political traction, or sell their goods.
This also comes at a time where the major social networks have been forced to reduce their content moderation teams in light of COVID-19 concerns. This week, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all noted that they will need to revert to more automated detection of platform rule violations because their moderation teams, which generally operate in large offices, are not able to work at full capacity via remote connection.
It's one of the many challenges of the evolving situation - and now, Facebook's looking at another way to help it address the same, while it's also seeking to maximize local news coverage in order to keep local communities more informed on the latest coronavirus updates.
As per Facebook:
"Today we’re announcing that we’ve partnered with Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to launch a $1M USD grant program to support fact-checkers in their work around COVID-19."
Poynter's IFCN, which was launched in 2015, helps to co-ordinate fact-checking standards and procedures, and works with a broad range of independent fact-checking groups across the globe. The new funding will enable the IFCN to better co-ordinate with its partners on the most effective approaches in dispelling COVID-19 misinformation, while it will also provide more scope for it to work with health experts and authorities in creating high-quality, factual content to assist coverage.
Given the rise in fake news around the outbreak, this is essential work, and while Facebook and others will soon return to full, remote capacity for their content moderation processes, the work of the IFCN will remain key in dispelling false reports and ensuring people are correctly informed on how to slow the spread of the virus.
In addition to this, Facebook has also announced a new grant program to assist local newsrooms in their coverage of COVID-19 within their respective communities.
"The Facebook Journalism Project is partnering with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association to offer a total of $1 million in grants to local news organizations covering COVID-19 in the US and Canada."
The grants, which will reach up to $5k each, will help to cover unexpected costs associated with coronavirus reporting.
"These needs may include, but are not limited to: tools to work remotely, increases in coverage to inform communities and to combat misinformation, and other costs associated with serving vulnerable and at-risk communities. In addition, the Facebook Journalism Project is working with the News Media Canada and The Independent News Challenge to advise on how best to reach journalists in remote communities across Canada."
More information on the program, including how news organizations and journalists can apply, is available here.
The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented situation, and no one really knows how best to deal with it, nor how long it's going to take to resolve and get back to normal life. What we do know for sure is that accurate, relevant and timely information is critical in reducing the spread of the virus, and easing the load on our healthcare resources.
If we can 'flatten the curve', and make it a more manageable situation, we'll be able to recover faster, and get back to some semblance of normality, at least until a vaccine can be distributed.
These new grants could play an important role in improving that focus.