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Technology

Amazon, Alphabet among tech firms meeting with White House on coronavirus response

Trump Virus Outbreak
President Trump prepares to answer a question after speaking about the coronavirus in February at the White House.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

White House officials discussed combating online misinformation about the coronavirus and other measures during a teleconference Wednesday with tech companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios led the call, which also included representatives from Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and other companies and tech trade groups.

The discussion focused on information-sharing with the federal government, coordination regarding telehealth and online education and the creation of new tools to help researchers review scholarship, according to a statement from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort,” Kratsios said in a statement. He said his office would unveil a database of research on the virus in coming days.

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Officials from the Labor Department, Health and Human Services Department, Education Department, National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies also joined the call.

Researchers and journalists have documented many cases of misinformation about the virus spreading online. Social media companies have been trying to tackle it, with a particular focus on false health information.

Three of the most influential internet platforms — Google, Facebook and Twitter — are sending users who search for information on the virus to health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and donating ad inventory to health organizations and key nongovernmental organizations.

Google is also blocking ads “capitalizing” on the virus. On YouTube, the company is taking down “content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment.”

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Facebook has begun removing fake claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus in a move that goes beyond the site’s practice of labeling suspect information on other topics. The company said it would “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.” In January, Facebook said one spurious claim that had been circulating was the assertion that drinking bleach would cure the virus.

Facebook is continuing its fact-checking with independent third-party partners as well, notifying users who may have shared inaccurate prevention tips and disseminating verified advice.

It has also banned ads and listings for face masks, and it has prohibited advertisements that are “exploiting the situation” on Instagram and Facebook. On Instagram, it is “blocking or restricting hashtags being used to spread misinformation.”

Twitter, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it is “not seeing significant coordinated” effort to manipulate information around the virus on the platform.


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