The virus of false news: the web is not enough

Le virus des fausses nouvelles: le web n'en fait pas assez

The major social networks have attempted to limit the epidemic of false news related to the COVID-19, which is spread online, but force is to admit that the efforts are not sufficient and that a share of the responsibility for their task today, argue experts.

From the first days of the crisis, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been bombarded with conspiracy theories and false news about the pandemic.

Quickly, some have invested to try to curb the problem, but the mass of publications is simply too imposing.

At Facebook, a team of auditors of the facts and a sixty media partners such as AFP or Reuters review of publications that are suspicious and add a warning.

To prove the magnitude of the task, in April alone, 50 million publications have been given of this warning.

A similar design of warnings has also been developed for Twitter.

For its part, YouTube has changed its policies to remove any medical content that would be contrary to the positions of the world health Organization.

The line is, however, difficult to trace and some of the content escape.

“This misinformation prevents the dissemination of accurate information, which impedes the efforts of public health officials and health professionals to combat the pandemic “, say the authors of a study from the University of Ottawa, conducted by Heidi Oi-Yee Li.

The role of algorithms

One of the problems of the control of the false information is the difficulty for the social networks to go against their own algorithm.

“This is not necessarily their primary interest is to counter the false news. And as their system was not made for that, it becomes difficult to see how they could succeed in countering it, ” says Marie-Eve Carignan, a professor in the Department of communication at the University of Sherbrooke.

In normal times, more content to get interactions, such as comments or shares, the higher their visibility will be high, what the people spreading false news know very well.

Quickly repartagées, widely commented on, these publications come to take up much space on the news feed.

The famous algorithms also share with the users of the content related to their research or their readings of the past.


The researcher Ève Dubé issues, however, a caveat to this that social networks act in the management of false news. She is concerned that these actions reinforce the beliefs of complotistes.

“It said : fast, will see such a case before the government removes it. The fact that the content disappears, it serves their argument, ” explains she.

— With the collaboration of Kathryne Lamontagne

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