Facebook says it's trying to combat misinformation about the coronavirus

It’s a welcome, if unusual, display of scruples from the social network.

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Yesterday Twitter announced the measures it’s taking to stop the spread of erroneous or deliberately misleading information about the coronavirus on its platform. Today Facebook’s done similarly. In a blog post, Facebook outlined its plans to reduce false posts while helping direct people to news sources it and third-party fact-checkers deem legitimate. It comes after the company started limiting employee travel to China earlier this week.

Facebook’s post by the company’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, says when a fact-checker deems information false, Facebook will limit that content’s ability to be decimated on both Facebook and Instagram by instead highlighting content from vetted partners. The social network will also send notifications to users who’ve already shared problematic content or to those who try to.

Just take down the lies — We’d like to see Facebook remove misleading posts entirely, but hiding behind its usual “we’re not the arbiters of truth,” defense, the company says it’ll only “remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.” So, if you post that drinking bleach will cure coronavirus, your content will only get taken down if a fact-checking body flags it.

Free ads for the legitimate — When people search for coronavirus-related content on Facebook or Instagram they’ll get educational pop-ups with links to “credible information” and Facebook’s going to insert vetted content at the top of its Newsfeed. The company is also providing educational organizations with ad credits so they can run education campaigns on Facebook and Instagram “in affected regions.”

Considering the severity of coronavirus, it’s encouraging to see one of the world’s primary sources of information and means of communication doing something to help. We’d love to see Facebook and Twitter give the same treatment to other equally harmful if less headline-grabbing content that remains on the sites. These moves are a reminder that they could if they wanted to.