Facebook gives WHO free ads to cut down coronavirus misinformation

CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to make sure people "can access credible and accurate" updates on the outbreak, and WHO praised the support as "invaluable."

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Facebook wants you to be able to trust what you read about the coronavirus, Mark Zuckerberg said.

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Facebook is letting the World Health Organization advertise for free to try to combat misinformation on the coronavirus outbreak. The social network wants people to feel confident that information is "credible and accurate," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post late Tuesday.

"If you search for coronavirus on Facebook, you'll see a pop-up that directs you to the World Health Organization or your local health authority for the latest information," he wrote. "If you're in a country where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission, you'll also see it in your News Feed."

Zuckerberg said his site is working with various countries' health ministries, as well as UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facebook also plans to offer free ads to other groups.

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, responded to Zuckerberg's post on Wednesday, thanking the social media site for making "robust contributions" to the fight against COVID-19. 

"To stop the new coronavirus from spreading, it is essential that users of social media, search platforms and digital devices have easy access to evidence-based advice, in their languages, and be spared dangerous falsehoods," wrote Ghebreyesus. "There's no time like the present for the digital world to show solidarity and create innovative solutions to promote health and keep the world safe."

In an email to CNET, WHO Manager Digital Solutions Andy Pattison said the support the WHO has been getting from social media platforms and large tech companies like Facebook is "invaluable."

"The offer to allow us to advertise for free across Facebook will greatly help us reach populations with advice and guidance tailored to their specific needs adapted to local context and languages," he wrote.

The new strain of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes a pneumonia-like illness and was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It has now infected nearly 96,000 people and caused more than 3,200 deaths globally.

Misinformation and conspiracy theories about the illness have spread via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. Last week, Facebook banned ads that guarantee cures or ways to prevent the disease.

Last week, the company canceled its F8 developer conference over coronavirus concerns, and this week it withdrew from the SXSW conference and festivals.

First published March 4, 3:34 a.m. PT.