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Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: 'All hands on deck' to combat coronavirus misinformation

The spread of misinformation is still a big problem for social networks.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said Monday the social media giant had "all hands on deck" to respond to misinformation about the novel coronavirus.

"We are taking down any harmful misinformation about the coronavirus," Sandberg said in an interview with Bloomberg. The social network is working with the World Health Organization and local health authorities to remove this type of content, but is also trying to surface "good information" to people, she said.

Sandberg cited a video she posted with her fiance Tom Bernthal, the co-founder and CEO of strategic consultancy Kelton Global, about how to properly wash your hands. The couple shared the video on Monday as part of the World Health Organization's "SafeHands" challenge.

In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, thanked the couple for promoting hand hygiene.

Sandberg's remarks echo the approach the company announced in late January. Facebook works with third-party fact checkers and will limit the reach of posts that its partners find are false. The company will remove content that could cause physical harm such as claims that drinking bleach cures the coronavirus. 

Even as social networks step up their efforts to combat misinformation, false posts still spread online. The New York Times reported in March that dozens of videos, photos and posts that included coronavirus information continue to slip through the cracks on social media. Misinformation about the coronavirus has also surfaced in private Facebook groups and encrypted WhatsApp messages, making it more difficult for the company to find and pull down. Conspiracy theories include that the coronavirus is an invention of the pharmaceutical industry or is caused by 5G.

Sandberg said Facebook will pull down harmful coronavirus misinformation in private groups as soon as it can find these posts.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Times in a recent interview that the social network can take a tougher stance when it comes to health misinformation.

"When you're dealing with a pandemic, a lot of the stuff we're seeing just crossed the threshold," Zuckerberg said. "So it's easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line." 

Facebook has been matching up to $20 million in donations to the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization. So far, more than $3 million has been raised in the WHO fund raiser.

Meanwhile, government agencies are also taking matters into their own hands, using social media to try to dispel rumors and hoaxes about the coronavirus. The virus causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19 that includes symptoms such as a cough and shortness of breath.

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