By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Facebook and WhatsApp have seen large upticks in usage as a result of social distancing, according to the firm's MENA managing director
Facebook has partnered with a Jordanian-based fact-checking firm as part of a wider effort to combat misinformation and rumours about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Ramez Shehadi, Facebook’s managing director for the MENA region.
In an interview with Arabian Business, Shehadi said that since January Facebook and Instagram have been removing any misinformation that could “contribute to imminent physical harm”.
Such cases include posts that make false claims about cures, treatments, the availability of essential services or the location and severity of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“For example, we recently started removing claims that physical distancing doesn’t help prevent the spread,” Shehadi added.
For rumours that do not result in physical harm – such as conspiracy theories about how the virus began – Facebook is working with 55 fact-checking partners working in 45 languages, including one in the region with Fatabyyano, an independent platform that specialises in news verification.
“The initiative will be spearheaded by the Arabic-speaking Fatabyyano fact-checkers, who will rely on a standard set of criteria to determine the authenticity of content,” Shehadi said.
Additionally, Facebook and Instagram has rolled out a new feature that provides in-feed and top-of-feed units that direct people to the World Health Organisation, Center for Disease Control or local health authorities for the latest information.
“Countries in MENA that have rolled out this feature include Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Iraq, Morocco and Algeria, with other countries to roll out in the next few weeks,” Shehadi added.
To date, Facebook and Instagram have directed over 1 billion people across the globe to these health resources, more than 100 million of whom clicked through the links.
Additionally, Shehadi said that Facebook’s apps have seen an uptick in usage in many of the areas hardest hit by Covid-19 as a result of the social distancing currently being practiced by millions around the globe.
“In many of the countries….total messaging has increased by more than 50 percent over the last month,” he added. “Similarly, in places hit hardest by the virus, voice and video calling have more than doubled on messenger and WhatsApp.”